NFL Nation: Sammie Stroughter

Reviewing NFC South free agents

March, 7, 2013
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We’ve shown you the lists of potential NFC South free agents before. But let’s do it again because there have been some minor moves and the free-agency period is getting ready to start Tuesday.

Here’s the list of potential free agents for all four NFC South teams:

Atlanta Falcons. Tony Gonzalez, Brent Grimes, Sam Baker, William Moore, Will Svitek, Mike Cox, Todd McClure, Luke McCown, Christopher Owens, Mike Peterson, Garrett Reynolds, Lawrence Sidbury and Vance Walker all can become unrestricted free agents. Michael Palmer can become a restricted free agent.

Carolina Panthers. The potential unrestricted free agents are Derek Anderson, Antwan Applewhite, Gary Barnidge, Dwan Edwards, Ben Hartsock, Sherrod Martin, Captain Munnerlyn, Louis Murphy and Mike Pollak. Richie Brockel can become an exclusive-rights free agent. Andre Neblett, Nate Ness and Jason Phillips are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

New Orleans Saints. Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Casillas, Chase Daniel, Sedrick Ellis, Devery Henderson, Ramon Humber, Elbert Mack, Turk McBride, Will Robinson, Courtney Roby and Scott Shanle can become unrestricted free agents. Brian De La Puente, Justin Drescher, Junior Galette and Chris Ivory are scheduled to become restricted free agents. Eric Olsen and Michael Higgins can become exclusive-rights free agents.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ronde Barber, Dallas Clark, Michael Bennett, E.J. Biggers, Andrew Economos, Geno Hayes, Roy Miller, Roscoe Parrish, Sammie Stroughter and Jeremy Trueblood can become unrestricted free agents. LeGarrette Blount, Jacob Cutrera, Corvey Irvin and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

Looking at Tampa Bay's free agents

February, 11, 2013
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Let’s finish our look at the potential NFC South free agents with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Safety Ronde Barber, tight end Dallas Clark, defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback E.J. Biggers, long-snapper Andrew Economos, linebacker Geno Hayes, defensive tackle Roy Miller, receiver/return man Roscoe Parrish, receiver Sammie Stroughter and tackle Jeremy Trueblood can become unrestricted free agents. Running back LeGarrette Blount, linebacker Jacob Cutrera, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin and defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim can become restricted free agents.

The good news is the Bucs have enough salary-cap room to bring back any of their own free agents that they want and there likely are several they want to keep.

Let’s start with Barber. He switched from cornerback to safety last season and continued to play at a relatively high level. The common assumption is that the Bucs want Barber back for another season. But it’s unknown at this point if Barber wants to continue playing. If he decides to retire, he needs to let the Bucs know in the next few weeks so they can begin moving in a different direction.

Bennett might be the key player on Tampa Bay’s list of free agents. In his fourth season, Bennett emerged as a decent pass-rusher (nine sacks), despite not having the injured Adrian Clayborn opposite him for most of the season. Tampa Bay has the nucleus for what could become a very good defensive line and that means it is important to re-sign Bennett and Miller.

Clark came in as a free agent last season and gave the team some help at tight end. But he wasn’t the player he was in his prime in Indianapolis and I could see the Bucs looking to bring in another tight end.

Although the Bucs are expected to overhaul the cornerback position, Biggers is one guy they may keep. In an ideal world, Biggers isn’t a guy the Bucs want in a starting role. But he can be decent as a third or fourth cornerback.

Stroughter and Trueblood are underachievers who are likely to walk as free agents.
Click here for the complete list of Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster moves.

Most significant move: The Bucs released defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who at one time appeared to be headed for significant playing time in the rotation or maybe even a spot in the starting lineup. Okoye is healthy enough that he reportedly is ready to turn around and sign with the Chicago Bears. But I think this move is another example of what coach Greg Schiano is all about. Okoye missed a lot of time in training camp and the preseason with a knee injury. He might have been one of those guys that could have gotten through the season by taking a lot of days off practice and showing up on Sundays. I don’t think that system is going to fly with Schiano (see Kellen Winslow). Although they might not be former first-round picks like Okoye, I think Schiano would rather have Gary Gibson and Wallace Gilberry, who show up for practice each day, as the starters behind Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller.

Onward and upward: Receiver Tiquan Underwood played for Schiano at Rutgers. Underwood seemed to have a good shot at making the roster with a strong showing in training camp and the preseason. But Underwood was released Friday night as the Bucs decided to keep Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter for the final roster spots at wide receiver. Underwood likely would be a guy the Bucs would bring back if they have any injuries at receiver. But that will only happen if another team doesn’t scoop Underwood up first.

What’s next: The guys that made the latter parts of the roster shouldn’t get too comfortable. General manager Mark Dominik has a history of bringing in guys that are cut by other teams and I think that trend will only continue this year as he and Schiano try to fine tune a roster that still could use more depth in several areas. I think there still could be movement on the defensive line, at guard and at tight end.
It was a tough day first day of camp practice for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It already has been widely reported that wide receiver Arrelious Benn suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for about a month. But, on top of that, cornerback E.J. Biggers also is going to miss some practice time.

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

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

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

Benn’s injury also is significant, even though the Bucs have some depth at wide receiver. Benn was considered to be in the mix to start opposite Vincent Jackson. But the Bucs have several other options with young wide receivers like Mike Williams, Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter.
Just about everywhere you look or listen there is speculation the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be in hot pursuit of wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

It makes sense on many levels, starting with the facts that the Bucs need a true No. 1 receiver and Jackson probably is the best available in free agency. There’s likely to be competition from Chicago and Washington and perhaps some other teams. The San Diego Chargers are also holding out a bit of hope that they can re-sign Jackson.

[+] EnlargeChargers' Vincent Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREVincent Jackson, a proven No. 1 receiver, could help the Bucs win more games in the NFC South.
But the Chargers will only do that if his price tag is somewhere around $11 million a season. If it gets higher than that, he likely will walk and Tampa Bay’s a very logical place for one of the top members of this free-agent class.

The Bucs have about $43 million in salary-cap space and it’s become increasingly clear the Bucs want to do everything possible to put quarterback Josh Freeman in position to succeed. Jackson certainly would help in that regard.

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Jackson may not sound like the deep threat so many think the Bucs need. But Jackson is a bit of a freak of nature when it comes to his speed, plus he uses his strength to get separation.

Just look at his numbers when it comes to yards per catch. Last season, Jackson averaged 18.4 yards per catch. That’s the second-highest total of his career and the highest (19.7) came in his rookie season when he was used as a third receiver.

That shows Jackson isn’t losing a step, which is a concern for a receiver who just turned 29. It looks like Jackson has several good years left and the Bucs shouldn’t let their infamous history of bringing in receivers scare them off. Jackson’s not Alvin Harper or Bert Emanuel, guys that were No. 2 receivers elsewhere that the Bucs thought could emerge as No. 1 guys. Jackson also isn’t Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway or Antonio Bryant, guys who produced in the short term, but, for various reasons, didn’t last in the long term.

Jackson is a proven No. 1 receiver. Although he had some off-field problems, those appear to be behind him and teammates and media members who have covered him say Jackson doesn’t have the “diva’’ personality so many receivers do. He’s described as very quiet and always has been liked by his coaches.

If the Bucs are going to get Jackson, it likely will cost them around $12-$13 million a year. That’s a lot, but the Bucs have indicated they’re ready to spend money after going lightly in free agency in recent years.

Jackson is the one guy out there that seems like a sure thing. Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace is a restricted free agent and I don’t think the Bucs are looking to give up draft picks. New Orleans Marques Colston isn’t a speed guy and he’s been banged up at times in the past.

If the Bucs don’t get Jackson, then they need to look in a different direction.

Robert Meachem (Saints), Mario Manningham (Giants) and Laurent Robinson (Cowboys) are guys that can stretch the field, but none of them is a true No. 1 receiver, although they'd come at a much lower price tag than Jackson. But even adding a speed guy could make it easier for Tampa Bay’s current group of receivers – Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter — to get open.
A 2010 suspension for a violent incident with a cab driver cost Aqib Talib up to $2.8 million in salary this season.

According to contract numbers obtained by ESPN.com, Talib’s suspension automatically kicked in a forfeiture of an escalator that could have paid him up to $2.8 million in 2012. Talib still is scheduled to earn $1.853 million this season.

Talib also is facing a trial on an assault charge in Texas later in March. Talib could face the possibility of prison time or suspension by the league or the Buccaneers.

While Talib missed big on his escalator, some other members of the Buccaneers have hit big on their own escalators. That will eat into early reports that had the Bucs heading for the start of free agency with around $67 million in cap space.

Quarterback Josh Freeman kicked in a $5.5 million escalator by meeting certain playing time and statistical requirements in 2010. Freeman now is carrying an $8.545 million cap figure for this season. He also already has kicked in a $7 million escalator for 2013 and that number could end up going as high as $9.455 million if he meets more escalators this season.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy earned a $5.1 million escalator based on his 2010 performance and now is carrying a $9.443 million cap figure for 2012. McCoy also has kicked in $6 million in escalators for 2013 and $7.7 million for 2014. McCoy still can earn an additional $8.44 million in escalators over the rest of his contract.

Cornerback E.J. Biggers earned an $875,000 escalator with his 2010 performance and is carrying a $1.455 cap figure this year.

Receiver Sammie Stroughter earned a $435,000 for this year based on his 2010 performance. His cap figure for this season is $1.012 million.

Defensive tackle Roy Miller earned $805,000 in escalators based on his performance in each of the last three seasons and is now carrying a $1.563 million cap figure.

Benn, Trueblood out for Bucs

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

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

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

Inactives for the Buccaneers

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

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

The other inactives for the Buccaneers are quarterback Rudy Carpenter, receiver Sammie Stroughter, safety Larry Asante, cornerback Myron Lewis, offensive lineman Derek Hardman and offensive tackle James Lee.
Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson (hip) is probable and participated fully in practice. Johnson had been added to the injury report Thursday. Right tackle Jeff Otah (back) is listed as questionable and participated in practice on a limited basis. Linebacker Omar Gaither (knee) is out for Sunday.

Atlanta has declared receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) and cornerback Chris Owens (concussion) out for Sunday’s game with Carolina. Defensive end John Abraham (groin), center Todd McClure (knee), guard Garrett Reynolds (ankle), and safety James Sanders (hamstring) are all listed as questionable. Abraham, McClure and Reynolds each participated in Friday’s practice on a limited basis.

The New Orleans Saints declared right tackle Zach Strief (knee), linebacker Will Herring (hamstring) and tight end David Thomas (concussion) out for Sunday’s game with Tampa Bay. Receiver Devery Henderson (calf) is probable.

The Buccaneers declared defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle), tight end Luke Stocker (knee) and receiver Sammie Stroughter (foot) out for Sunday. Running back LeGarrette Blount (knee) is listed as doubtful and linebacker Mason Foster (knee) is questionable. Foster was able to participate in practice fully Friday.

Injury updates on Bucs and Colts

October, 1, 2011
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts just put out their final injury reports for Monday night’s game at Raymond James Stadium.

The Bucs don’t have anything all that significant. Linebacker Quincy Black (ankle) is listed as questionable, but participated fully in Saturday’s practice. Tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) is probable and participated on a limited basis in practice after sitting out Thursday and Friday. Backup quarterback Josh Johnson, who suddenly appeared on the injury report with an ankle issue this week, is listed as probable and practiced. The Bucs ruled out backup offensive lineman James Lee (ankle) and receiver Sammie Stroughter (foot).

The Colts have a pretty lengthy and significant injury list, starting with quarterback Peyton Manning, who hasn’t played this season because of a neck injury and won’t play against Tampa Bay. Quarterback Kerry Collins, who’s been starting in Manning’s place, is listed as questionable after suffering a concussion last week. Collins hasn’t practiced all week and the Colts have said they’re prepared to start Curtis Painter.

The Colts listed defensive end Dwight Freeney (ankle) as questionable, but he fully participated in practice Friday and Saturday.

Inactives for the Buccaneers

September, 25, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. -- There are no surprises among the Buccaneers’ inactives.

As expected, linebacker Quincy Black is out with an ankle injury and Dekoda Watson is expected to start in his place.

Receiver Sammie Stroughter, running back Allen Bradford, safety Larry Asante, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, tackle Derek Hardman and tackle James Lee also are inactive.

New story: Mistakes don't doom Lions

September, 11, 2011
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Matthew StaffordKim Klement/US Presswire Matthew Stafford and the Lions are off to an impressive start in 2011. Stafford threw for 305 yards and three TDs, leading Detroit to a 27-20 victory at Tampa Bay.
TAMPA, Fla. -- I scrambled up to the press box here late Sunday afternoon, seeking verification of some basic facts. Namely: The current year and the final score of the game that had just concluded at Raymond James Stadium.

No, I hadn't fallen into a heat-induced delerium. In fact, I had just left the Detroit Lions' air-conditioned locker room. Therein, I heard:

Quarterback Matthew Stafford talk about the latest ailment that forced him to stagger off the field.

Coach Jim Schwartz rant about "stupid" football and "inexcusable" mistakes, promising that "it's not going to be a real pleasant film session" on Monday.

Guard Rob Sims express his conviction that coaches would "jump us on a whole bunch of stuff" in the coming days.

Hmmm. Tapping into my long history as a reporter, I confirmed that Sunday's game in fact took place in 2011. The Lions defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20 in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated, winning their season opener for the first time in four years and putting on display many of the components that caused so many of us to catch Lions Fever this offseason.

That Stafford's "injury" was nothing more than cramps, and that Schwartz was able to discuss Sunday's troubles in the context of a victory, marked the start of a new era that only the Lions could indoctrinate. They are far from perfect and in fact could have botched Sunday's game. But overcoming injuries and "bad football," as Schwartz called it during a different portion of his rant, is half the battle in the NFL. There are no perfect teams, and just about every one of them has a knucklehead like Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus, whose fourth-quarter unsportsmanlike conduct was almost certainly what Schwartz was referring to when he said: "There are some things that happened in this game that are inexcusable and will not continue."

Indeed, Cherilus' post-whistle shove of a Bucs defender stopped the clock with 1 minute and 24 seconds remaining and the Bucs out of timeouts. It gave the Bucs enough time to mount a potential game-tying drive, but ultimately they ran out of time. It also gave Schwartz exactly what any coach wants: A victory with plenty of material to humble his players with moving forward.

You see what's happening here, right? One of Schwartz's biggest tasks this season will be to shield players from the hype we've all created for them. It's always preferable to have players who believe they can be good than to be convinced that they already are.

But let's make no mistake here. For the most part, what we saw Sunday verified what we thought about the Lions this summer. Playing in a heat index that reached 94 degrees, the Lions controlled the game from start to finish. Frankly, much of the Bucs' success came after Lions breakdowns, namely Aqib Talib's 28-yard interception return for the touchdown and Sammie Stroughter's 78-yard kickoff return.

Indeed, Schwartz said, "They couldn't really move the ball on our defense but they had 10 points in the first quarter mainly because of two mistakes."

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
AP Photo/Margaret BowlesReceiver Calvin Johnson and the Lions made enough plays to hold off Tampa Bay in their opener.
But Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson connected for two highlight-reel touchdowns -- one a 36-yard play on fourth down after Talib bit on a double move, and the other a 1-yard pass Stafford shoved in Johnson's direction during the third quarter just as his right calf seized.

"During the process of dropping back, I was losing it," Stafford said. "I bet I looked pretty stupid on TV. He made me look pretty good once again."

I'm sure it took the breath of many Lions fans to see Stafford on his back on the sidelines while athletic trainers worked on his leg. But he never missed a snap, finishing with the second 300-yard game of his career and the Lions' first on opening weekend since Bobby Layne threw for 364 yards in 1953.

Stafford made a handful of mistakes himself, throwing high for tight end Will Heller on Talib's interception and nearly throwing a second on a pass behind running back Jahvid Best. But Stafford appeared in command of the offense from the start, and the Lions never trailed after the 36-yard play to Johnson.

"We didn't play our best football out there but we still got a win," Stafford said. "That's a good sign. Obviously you won't want those mistakes to keep coming back. We've got to fix those."

As Stafford and the offense rolled up 431 total yards, the Lions' defense largely shut down Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch served in a modified spy role, sacking Freeman once and finishing with two quarterback hits. Freeman had 98 passing yards through the first three quarters, and the Bucs a total of 128 yards, before the Lions' late-game breakdowns.

"This is the beginning of something special and I'm glad to be a part of it," Tulloch said. "It's crazy when you win and you know you can play better. That's what makes this so exciting. We can just keep working."

That's what I think will distinguish this edition of the Lions. Trust me, I understand why Schwartz was upset. Any coach would have been in that situation. But he doesn't get to rain on our parade. "We can just keep working" is much different sentiment than "back to the drawing board." The Lions are done with that place. This is, after all, 2011.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sit down with Mark Dominik even for just a few minutes and you’ll quickly hear his theory on why the term “youth movement’’ shouldn’t come with negative connotations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE HOT TOPICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BIGGEST SURPRISE

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

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

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

OBSERVATION DECK

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

Looking at who Bucs should extend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scouting NFC South WR groups

July, 1, 2011
7/01/11
3:33
PM ET
In this Insider item, Matt Williamson takes an in-depth look at the wide receiver corps in the NFC South.

He ranks Atlanta’s receivers as the best, followed by New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Carolina. I can’t really argue with that because I think Williamson’s on target.

The only thing I will say is that Williamson seems to be going on the assumption the rookie Julio Jones is going to be very good right away. A lot of us are making that same assumption, including myself. But I will throw out the old cautionary line that rookie wide receivers can take some time to develop. But, like Williamson says, Jones is in a great situation. He should be playing opposite Roddy White and catching passes from Matt Ryan. Throw in running back Michael Turner and tight end Tony Gonzalez and defenses won’t be able to devote too much attention to Jones.

New Orleans doesn’t have a true superstar at wide receiver, but that’s mainly because the Saints spread the ball around so much. Marques Colston could put up bigger numbers in a system where he was the featured receiver. Lance Moore is very underrated and the Saints don’t want to lose him in free agency. Robert Meachem, a former first-round pick, started his career very slowly but has started to come on.

Tampa Bay has an incredibly young group of receivers. Mike Williams came in last year as a rookie and instantly became the No. 1 receiver. He should only get better. If classmate Arrelious Benn can come back from a knee injury and start grasping things the way Williams has, the Bucs could have a dynamic duo. Sammie Stroughter could be a good third receiver. But don’t rule out playing time for Dezmon Briscoe. He spent part of last season on the practice squad, but the coaching staff is very high on Briscoe.

Carolina ranks last and that may be due to the uncertainty of the future of Steve Smith. If he stays, he should help rookie quarterback Cam Newton. If Smith goes, the Panthers aren’t desperate at wide receiver. They like Brandon LaFell and David Gettis and hope Armanti Edwards can get on the field this year. They’d like to throw those guys out there with Newton and let them all grow up together.

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