The Fab Five Returns

July 15 - It's Sunday, two weeks prior to the Bucs' first training camp practice, Tampa Bay is ready to contend for the NFC Championship, Ryan Leaf is looking good, most of the Bucs' draft picks will be signed this week, Reidel Anthony's status with the team is tenuous, Kenyatta Walker will need a crash course in pass protection 101 and all is right with the world. Here are my Fab Five thoughts of the week.

Before we get going on the first Fab Five of the 2001 season, we've got some personal things to attend to. I received a lot of warm wishes from a lot of you Bucs fans over the past nine months while my wife was pregnant, and I thank you for that. I am happy to announce the birth of Ellen Ann Reynolds on June 23, weighing in at 7 lbs. 2 oz., measuring 20 inches and healthy.

She looks like a future Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleader, but we'll see how it goes. My wife and I have joked all along how perfectly this was planned - right after the Post-Draft Issue and before the Training Camp Issue. Perfect timing indeed.

Speaking of the Buccaneer Magazine Training Camp Issue, it's in the works and it looks like we will publish it Tuesday, July 24. We usually go to print the Thursday or Friday before camp starts, but we wanted it to be in our subscribers hands earlier this year. If you are not a subscriber, I encourage you to, or at least call us and get the Training Camp Issue. Call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to do so. It's a big, 48-pager full of position previews, training camp battles, X's and O's, inside info and lots of new features.

We'll have it at the Authentic Team Merchandise-Buccaneer Heaven store Tuesday afternoon. Be sure to stop by, pick up a copy and get some new Bucs merchandise. Call (813) 908-BUCS(2827) for more info.

I'm pleased to announce that the popular "Buccaneer Blitz" radio show featuring yours truly and Sports Animal afternoon host Steve Duemig is back for a third season. Your calls and e-mails are welcome from 5:00 - 6:00 p.m. every Wednesday afternoon on WDAE 620 AM beginning on August 8.

The sports talk line in Hillsborough is 990-4620, and the toll-free line is 1-888-546-4620. Give us a call. We want to hear from you, the BucMag.com visitor and Buccaneer Magazine subscriber. And when you call, give us some feedback about the magazine or the website. It will help us attract new subscribers and Web users.

For those of you Bucs fans outside the WDAE listening area, join us live on the internet at www.620wdae.com.

And finally, glad to see BucMag.com up and running again? We are too. I promise to frequent the message boards more often once this big, 48-page Training Camp Issue is out. Our weekly Tuesday night chat sessions will start once again in early August. Be sure to spread the word on other message boards and chat rooms that BucMag.com is back.

Now, on to the analysis. I'll have another Fab Five out before camp starts, so stay tuned.

Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

1. I've been asked a lot at the Buccaneer Magazine office as well as via e-mail about the Bucs' chances of going all the way to the Super Bowl this year. I'm real hesitant to make any predictions until I review the NFL landscape after training camp. What good does it say the Baltimore Ravens will repeat as Super Bowl champs if they lose QB Elvis Grbac, MLB Ray Lewis and RB Jamal Lewis for the season in camp due to injuries?

Heading into camp, I feel that the Bucs and the St. Louis Rams are the class of the NFC with the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles being the runners up, and the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and maybe the Detroit Lions as the darkhorses.

The race for the NFC title will come down to whether the Bucs offense or the Rams defense can come together the quickest. Let's hope that the Monday night clash between these two teams on November 26 is as epic as their MNF battle was last year. Look for a repeat in Tampa later in the playoffs.

The AFC side is a bit muddied, with no clear favorites. Something tells me Baltimore will be good, but not as good as last year. Time will tell. They're in the mix with the Tennessee Titans, the Denver Broncos, the Oakland Raiders, and the New York Jets. The Indianapolis Colts are too soft and the Miami Dolphins' passing game is unproven. Believe it or not, Seattle and San Diego are two years away from contending from contending for the AFC Championship.

2. I've also gotten a lot of questions regarding Ryan Leaf's status in Tampa Bay. Here's the collection of answers I've given over the summer to people who have stopped by the Buccaneer Heaven store/Buccaneer Magazine office:

Yes, he's lost about 20 pounds since mini-camp. He's down to about 245-250, which looks to be a good weight for him. He'll probably drop another 5-10 pounds in camp.

Yes, he has an arm stronger than Trent Dilfer. This guy doesn't have a gun, he has a cannon. He just needs to really learn the game of football at the professional level. He's just so inexperienced. Having a proven teacher in quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell should really help in his development.

Yes, he's been pleasant to deal with. He seems mature, but guarded, in the conversations I've had with him, and I've talked with enough members of the Tampa Bay press corps about him to know that he should have an easy time with reporters in Tampa. There aren't any reporters down here out to get him, and no, Steve Duemig won't run him out of town the way he did with Trent Dilfer.

Yes, he has a shot to win the backup job behind Brad Johnson, but right now it's Shaun King's job to lose. King is the No. 2 QB heading into camp and has a better knowledge of the system and the personnel. That gives him a big advantage heading into August. But Leaf has the physical tools and if he can develop some of the intangibles and feel for the game that King has, those physical traits will give him the edge.

3. You've been reading these reports on the Internet saying how the Bucs only have $400,000 worth of cap room left and they haven't signed any of their draft picks. First, the Bucs likely have more cap room than what is being reported. For some reason, Tampa Bay's capologist, John Idzik, and general manager, Rich McKay, are extremely tight-lipped about their cap status.

But remember this, even though the Bucs have 86 players on their roster (including unsigned draft picks), about three dozen are rookies or first- and second-year players who make the minimum salary. During training camp, only the top 53 salaries count against the salary cap. To determine this, the league and the teams will align their players from most expensive to least expensive on a sheet and rank them - in the Bucs' case - from 1 to 86. But from No. 54 to No. 86, those players' salaries don't count against the cap, and most of those players only make the league minimum for a second- or first-year player, or the rookie minimum.

Guess what Tampa Bay's draft picks (minus top pick Kenyatta Walker) will make this year? The rookie minimum. So where will there salaries rank? From No. 54 on down, and that's why the Bucs will be able to quickly sign CB Dwight Smith (third round), FS John Howell (fourth round), G Russ Hochstein (fifth round), DE Ellis Wyms (sixth round), FB Jameel Cook (sixth round), TE Daunte` Finger (seventh round) and FS Than Merrill (seventh round) in a flurry next week.

Walker might be a different story, but his first year salary (not including his signing bonus) will be less than $1 million, that's for sure. The Bucs' last No. 1 draft pick, DT Anthony McFarland, had a first-year base salary of $264,000. Granted, his signing bonus just topped $4 million.

4. There is some speculation that wide receiver Reidel Anthony may be one of the training camp cuts this year due to his declining productivity since his breakthrough 1998 campaign. And Anthony, along with the Bucs, knows the clock is ticking.

"Does he have a chance to get cut? Yeah, if he doesn't pick it up," former Bucs director of player personnel Jerry Angelo told me during mini-camp. "But I don't think that's going to happen. He smells the coffee, so to speak. He's shown a little stronger work ethic."

I'm not ruling it out, but my hunch is that Anthony will stick around this season in Tampa Bay, and here's why. This offseason, Anthony took a pay cut to help the team's salary cap situation out, and to save himself from being cut. He'll be a free agent next season, and the Bucs will let him go into free agency then - unless he has a remarkable season in 2001.

But the real reason he'll stick around is that if an injury kept Keyshawn Johnson out of the lineup for a while, the only veteran receivers on the team would be Jacquez Green and Karl Williams if Anthony was cut. Promising young receiver Frank Murphy is still raw, and while an undrafted rookie may make the team, he won't have any pro experience and none of them are talented enough at this phase of their development to come in and really have an impact.

The real training camp battle will be between Anthony and Murphy for the No. 3 wide receiver spot and to see which rookie(s) can make the practice squad. I know it's early, but barring any injuries or major upsets - the five receivers that the Bucs will carry into the season are Johnson, Green, Anthony, Murphy and Williams. The Bucs will likely want to have one or two receivers on their developmental squad so they'll be around next year when Anthony, and maybe Williams, will depart in free agency. My early favorites for the practice squad at the receiver position are Khori Ivy and Frank Rice.

5. You're probably getting tired of reading, and I'm getting tired of writing. This is the longest Fab Five I've done, so here's a quick hit:

Walker needs to sign on the dotted line and not miss any camp time. He needs every rep he can get with Simeon Rice in full pads. Although he will have a couple of practices and a preseason game against Miami's Jason Taylor, a preseason game against Cleveland's Courtney Brown and another preseason game against New England's Willie McGinest, Walker will face Dallas' Greg Ellis on opening day and the Philadelphia's Hugh Douglas the following week. Walker will need a crash course in "handling the NFL pass rush 101" in training camp to be ready for the start of the season.


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