Here's five things that caught my interest this week:
1. It's rather quiet on the Mike Alstott front. Here's what we know. The Bucs will force Alsott to reduce his salary for the 2002 season and probably won't extend the contract. Alstott's deal is set to expire after the 2003 season, so there won't likely be any restructuring -- this will be a reduction in salary.
The Bucs want to trade him because they feel that he just won't be a good fit in Jon Gruden's offense, which doesn't emphasize the fullback. As Buccaneer Magazine first reported, free agent fullback Greg Comella (New York Giants) visited the Bucs last week and could be Alstott's replacement if the two parties agree to a deal. Comella is a slightly better blocker than Alstott, and is just as good a receiver.
But while Comella lacks Alstott's rushing skills, he would come at a fraction of the price. Alstott's 2002 salary cap charge is $4.66 million, which includes a $2 million roster bonus payable on April 15.
Our insiders told us that Alstott's meeting with Gruden went "okay", but left the fullback wondering if he'll be an active participant in the offense or just a situational player who will spend a great deal of time on the sidelines. Alstott's representatives have reiterated that the A-Train wants to play instead of being a bystander and that might force Alstott to ask for his release if he is not traded.
Believed to be in Alstott's corner is general manager Rich McKay, who has always been an ally of the A-Train. But Gruden is having a hard time trying to work him into the offense. We'll learn more about Alstott's role, or lack thereof, after the Bucs' first mini-camp this weekend.
Unfortunately, my instincts tells me that Alstott is not in Tampa Bay's plans this year and that he won't be in a Buccaneer uniform. I hope I'm wrong as Alstott's energizing runs, goal line production and locker room character would be greatly missed in my opinion.
2. The Buccaneers are having former Minnesota Vikings punter Mitch Berger in for a visit on Thursday. Berger was released from the Vikings when he didn't restructure his contract to reduce his salary, which averaged $1 million per year over five years.
Tampa Bay was interested in his services a few years back, and remains interested in the Pro Bowl punter even though he is coming off knee surgery that ended his 2001 season prematurely. Berger will likely not kick for the coaches and personnel staff at One Buc Place because he is still rehabilitating his knee. The Bucs are expected to sign at least one other punter prior to the team's mini-camp, which begins on Friday, and will bring in a couple other prospects, too. Currently, the only punter on the Bucs' roster is Tim Morgan.
The team still has an interest in Mark Royals, who has been Tampa Bay's punter for the past two seasons, but only as a backup option. Royals is entering his 14th season and although he eventually got over a training camp knee injury, he never fully regained the strength in his kicking leg that allowed him to put top distance on punts.
Look for the Bucs to give Morgan or another youngster a shot at the starting job, and re-sign Royals, if he's available, as a training camp insurance policy. But if Berger signs with Tampa Bay, Royals will have to find work elsewhere.
3. With Detroit's re-signing of Germane Crowell and Kansas City's addition of Johnnie Morton, most of the premier free agent receivers have already been signed. Except former Washington receiver Michael Westbrook.
Although the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Westbrook might look good opposite 6-foot-4, 220-pound Pro Bowler Keyshawn Johnson on paper, Tampa Bay doesn't have any real interest in the former first-round pick out of Colorado, according to our insiders. The book report on Westbrook is that his heart may not be into football as much as it should, and he's had his share of injuries and outbursts with the Redskins, notably slugging teammate Stephen Davis a couple of years ago.
Tampa Bay appears to be content with waiting until after June 1 to see which receivers will be released due to salary cap reasons. Jacksonville's Keenan McCardell and Kansas City's Derrick Alexander intrigue the Bucs, and Antonio Freeman is very familiar with the West Coast offense due to his tenure in Green Bay. He too could be an option.
And there will likely be a surprise or two on June 1 at the receiver position, depending on which teams draft wide receivers in the first two rounds. The Bucs also plan on addressing the receiver position in the draft, coming away with as many as two prospects now that the team has added three compensatory draft picks in the seventh round.
4. Here's a sneak peak at Gruden's playbook based on a handful of offensive players that Buccaneer Magazine has spoken with. The offense features several three wide receiver formations with a single back and a tight end, and some formations with three receivers, two backs and no tight ends.
The "X" receiver position, or split end, is the position that Jerry Rice played last year in Oakland. In Gruden's offense this will be the player that typically stretches the field and goes on the deep routes. The "X" usually lines up on the weak side or the back side of the formation.
The "Z" receiver position, or flanker, is the position that Tim Brown played for Gruden's Raiders. This position is prime to get slants, hitches and quick throws. The "Z" typically lines up on the strong side of the formation.
Frank Murphy has been running as the first-team "X" receiver for the past week with E.G. Green lining up as the first-team "Z" receiver. Of course, the Bucs' top wide receiver, Keyshawn Johnson, has been out of town. Johnson's first day in the offseason conditioning program will be on Tuesday.
5. From the players Buccaneer Magazine has spoken with regarding the team's new offseason workout program, the program has gotten rave reviews. Johnny Parker is the Bucs' new strength and conditioning coach, replacing Mark Asanovich, who was Tampa Bay's strength and conditioning coach from 1996-2001.
Parker has not been in the National Football League for two seasons, but he will bring 17 years of experience to Tampa Bay. He has worked for three Super Bowl teams under Bill Parcells with the New York Giants and New England Patriots. Parker's last job in the league was with the Patriots, where he worked in the same capacity from 1993-99.
His assistant, Mike Morris, worked with Parker with the Patriots in 1997 after playing wide receiver and running track at Syracuse University. Morris will serve as the team's speed coach.
New Bucs coach Jon Gruden and Parker are firm believers in "pumping iron". Gone are most of the various lifting machines that made One Buc Place look like Bally's Health Spa instead of a football training ground, according to one Bucs player.
Parker's new workouts emphasize lifting free weights, which work multiple muscle groups at a time, unlike machines which typically isolate and work a specific muscle group. Squats, hang cleans and clean-and-jerks better simulate football-related movements and help build football functional strength, power and explosiveness. Even the team's wide receivers and running backs are excited about introducing more powerful lifts to their regimen.
Morris has the Buccaneers working on their running techniques to help generate more speed and power. The team is doing 100-yard sprints, 40-yard sprints, ladder drills and backpedal sprints. These help develop speed, endurance, quickness, balance and fluid lateral and backwards movement.
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