NFL Nation: Wonderlic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe the Barron pick doesn’t look so bad -- or blank -- after all.

Blaine Gabbert's hype starts today

March, 17, 2011
My longtime friend and former co-worker Tom Sorensen created quite a stir Wednesday when he wrote that all signs are pointing to the Carolina Panthers taking Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick.

He also added a couple qualifiers that said the Panthers at least seem to be trying to convince the NFL world of that fact and maybe they’re hoping to trade down.

A lot of people took this to mean Sorensen was reporting the Panthers are -- almost absolutely -- taking Newton. But a lot of those people were taking things too literally and not getting what Sorensen was really saying.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
AP Photo/Darron CummingsBlaine Gabbert hasn't thrown in public since the Insight Bowl.
Let’s start with a little lesson in the world of newspapers and journalism. Beat writers cover the facts. Columnists provide analysis of the news and opinions. The lines have blurred in some cases as the journalism world has restructured itself extensively in recent years. A certain blog network took a group of former newspaper beat writers and essentially asked us to stop being traditional beat writers and start using our past experience to write mostly analysis and opinion.

Sorensen’s a great columnist, capable of crossing lines some columnists, who write off the top of their heads, don't. He’s got some good sources, so he sometimes ends up writing news or columns that contain some strong hints at the news.

I think his Wednesday piece fell into the latter category. Sorensen was analyzing what’s already known. There’s no doubt the Panthers have been doing extensive homework on Newton, and that’s basically what he wrote. Does he have some vibe that the Panthers are leaning in that direction? I don’t know for sure, but Tom’s not the kind of guy to just throw things out without having some insight.

But let’s remember, this wasn’t written as a flat-out news story, and Tom didn’t definitively say whom the Panthers will be drafting No. 1. He just said the signs seem to be pointing in that direction.

The draft doesn’t start until April 28, and a lot of signs can change direction between now and then. Heck, that could even start happening Thursday.

You’re going to see all sorts of stories that Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert is having his pro day today and is scheduled to have a private workout with the Panthers this weekend.

Will the signs suddenly switch to the Panthers drafting Gabbert? Maybe so, or maybe it will just appear that way. Don’t read too much into that, because if you really think about it, it’s highly unlikely the Panthers have made any firm decision on either quarterback or even if they’ll take one with the first pick.

That’s largely because they’d be foolish if they didn’t wait until now to take a hard look at Gabbert. Today will be the first time he’s thrown publicly since he concluded his career in the Insight Bowl. He didn’t throw at the combine. Sure, the Panthers probably have watched hours of tape on him from college. But it wouldn’t be wise to make any decision until seeing Gabbert.

The Panthers will get two chances to see him throw extensively the next few days, and it’s likely they’ll at least narrow their thinking on quarterbacks after an up-close look.

Oh, by the way, there’s a little more on the quarterback front this morning. Our Chris Mortensen reports that Gabbert scored a 42 on the Wonderlic. That’s a great score and only one point behind Alabama’s Greg McElroy, who turned in the highest score of all the quarterbacks. Newton’s score was 21. That’s rather mediocre and only one point ahead of Washington’s Jake Locker, who had the lowest score of the high-ranking quarterback prospects.

Is the Wonderlic going to make Carolina’s final decision? Is Gabbert’s workout going to be the one deciding factor?

No, this is a process, and general manager Marty Hurney is a methodical guy. His signs have pointed toward Newton so far, but Hurney and the Panthers aren't going to be done until they read all the signs.

Beyond those QB Wonderlic scores

March, 17, 2011
There was but one thing to do once ESPN's Chris Mortensen passed along Wonderlic scores for top 2011 NFL draft quarterback prospects.

I wanted to see where these quarterbacks ranked using the 26-27-60 theory. The theory says college quarterbacks have a better chance at NFL success if they've scored at least 26 on the Wonderlic, started at least 27 college games and completed at least 60 percent of their passes.

The formula is not air-tight, of course. It's just a general guide.

With that in mind, I've put together a chart showing that information for the prospects Mortensen mentioned. It's tough finding total career starts in one place, but I patched together numbers using information available in college bios and news accounts. Completion percentages were rounded up using information available from the NCAA.

Five of the eight prospects listed met the 26-27-60 criteria. Two falling below the line -- Cam Newton and Jake Locker -- each fell short in two of the three categories. Blaine Gabbert was one start shy of the target.

I sorted the chart by Wonderlic scores.

Also: Some interesting stuff here.

The Wonderlic Exam

February, 19, 2009
According to the fine people at Wonderlic, Inc. (via our friends at Page 2), you have four minutes to finish this test.