SR's Fab Five

May 9 - Inside this week's installment: WR Willie Jackson never visited Tampa Bay, and a look at the Buccaneers' depth on offense. Who will emerge as the Bucs' starting quarterback? Will any Tampa Bay running back rush for 1,000 yards this year? Will the Bucs still have room for a developmental receiver like Frank Murphy or Milton Wynn? How is depth shaping up at tight end and along the offensive line? Find out in this week's SR's Fab Five.

SR's Fab Five usually appears each Tuesday on BucMag.com

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

FAB 1. Everybody's wrong in this business once in a while, and no media outlet is immune from getting some bad information from time to time. Including us. On May 7 when we went with a report that said that the Buccaneers were scheduled to meet with former New Orleans Saints receiver Willie Jackson.

Our managing editor got a tip that night from an overzealous player agent who apparently was looking to drum up some interest for his client on the free agent market. We tried to get a hold of some of our sources within the Bucs front office to confirm the story, but it was too late into the night. We made a mistake by running the story. In the end, Jackson's interest in the Bucs appears to be rather one-sided. He didn't come in for a visit, and the Bucs aren't expected to bring him in.

We've had a great spring getting the scoop on several visits and signings, and we hit a heck of a lot more than we miss, but we still hate to miss. Our apologies.

As for the four players who did work out with Tampa Bay, the Bucs were most impressed with linebacker Allen Aldridge. The problem is that he signed with Houston today and feels he has a better opportunity for playing time there. The tryouts for Lee Woodall and Zack Walz were just okay. Nothing to really write home about.

The Bucs will continue to look in free agency after June 1 for an experienced linebacker. The Bucs are currently talking to former Minnesota linebacker Ed McDaniel, but there are several issues that both the team and McDaniel have to work through. This signing may ultimately not happen because of those issues -- and that info is from a trusted team source, not an agent.

Offensive tackle Roman Oben's workout was nothing overly special either. The Bucs do need to sign a swing tackle who can play the left and right side, but Oben is thought to be in the same class as former Bucs tackle Pete Pierson, who is still a candidate for getting re-signed. There is a chance that the Bucs could sign either player, but don't appear to be in a hurry.

FAB 2. Let's resume our look at the Buccaneers depth -- concentrating this week on offense and starting with the quarterback position. I get asked all the time -- who will be the Buccaneers' starting quarterback? How's Shaun King looking? Is Rob Johnson the starter, the backup or the third-string quarterback? Will Brad Johnson's lack of mobility hurt his chances to hang on to the starting spot?

Here's my take. I think Jon Gruden wants to not like Brad Johnson because he isn't really mobile and doesn't have a big, strong arm. But I think Johnson is doing enough things well to make Gruden like him. Gruden likes his accuracy and decision-making ability, which appear to be making up for some of Johnson's athletic shortcomings. There is something to be said for those qualities too.

Fans get so caught up on having a mobile quarterback in the West Coast offense and think of Steve Young and Jeff Garcia scrambling to make plays. But ask any coach who is disciple of the West Coast offense about mobility and they'll say that completion percentage and decision-making ability are paramount. Garcia, Young, Brett Favre or Joe Montana are all above 60-percent when it comes to their completion percentage. Brad Johnson has that going for him.

King has really gotten into great shape and looks as athletic as ever. The problem with King is that his greatest asset may be his intangibles, which don't show up regularly in practice. King's fumble, recovery and touchdown throw against Washington in 2000 was a great heads up play, as was his 19-yard run on a lateral from Warrick Dunn against St. Louis on Monday Night Football later that same year. The environment for those kinds of special plays just doesn't happen in practice.

King needs to be more consistent with his accuracy and decision-making in practice. He hasn't done enough to unseat Brad Johnson yet, but isn't too far away to claim the starting job when training camp rolls around. King is in a contract year and the quarterback competition is literally wide open. He has every incentive in the world to give it his best shot.

Rob Johnson looks incredible throwing on the run. He rolls out to the right and can really zip a pass into a receiver. I've seen him throw 20 yards on a rope. He's got a laser arm. The problem is his lack of pocket presence. He waits too long for things to develop down the field and doesn't take what the defense gives him underneath often enough. He can scramble, but he just doesn't know when to scramble some times.

Still, Johnson is within striking distance to take the starting job. He's an accurate passer, but needs to make better decisions. If you could combine his ability to throw on the run with Brad Johnson's ability to throw out of the pocket you'd have a truly great quarterback.

Just remember that Rob Johnson is Gruden's guy. Gruden recruited Johnson and inherited King and Brad Johnson. That doesn't mean that Rob Johnson will ultimately win the starting job, but just keep that in mind. This three-way battle is far from over and won't be decided until way into training camp.

And don't think that Joe Hamilton is in the mix, especially for the starting job. He's spending his summer in NFL Europe debuting for other teams. He will be behind the eight ball in terms of learning the offense when training camp rolls around.

FAB 3. Let's talk about Tampa Bay's running backs. The Bucs really liked what rookie running back Travis Stephens did in the team's recent mini-camp. They feel that he could really make an impact this year in certain situations as a change-of-pace back. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs don't even have a 1,000-yard back this season because they may split up the carries so much between Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott and Travis Stephens.

Barring injury, Pittman has the best chance to run for 1,000 yards this season, but may not be able to get enough carries if the play of Alstott and Stephens demands that they get more than just a couple opportunities per game, too. This will be an interesting area to watch in training camp as Gruden formulates how each back fits into his offense and how often they'll be used.

Fullback Jameel Cook looks bulkier this year and continues to impress with his pass catching ability. He was a pretty good blocker last year, and we'll have to wait until the pads come on in training camp to see if he's improved in that area.

Didn't get a great look at Mike Cerimele, who is expected to be the main competition for Cook's fullback job, during mini-camp. We'll watch him more closely at the June mini-camp.

The battle for the third-string tailback, or fourth-string depending on how you view Alstott's role, will come down to Aaron Stecker or Byron Hanspard. My vote right now goes to Stecker based on his mini-camps and special teams ability. Hanspard hasn't really wowed me yet. Rookie Zain Gilmore doesn't stand much of a chance except for making the practice squad.

FAB 4. Tampa Bay's tight ends and wide receivers have suddenly gotten deeper this offseason with the acquisitions of Joe Jurevicius and rookie Marquise Walker to the receiving corps and Ken Dilger and Marco Battaglia to the tight end spot. Weaknesses have been turned into strengths thanks mostly to free agency, which Gruden and Rich McKay have worked to perfection this season.

I won't get deep here because this was the topic of my Buccaneer Blitz column in the Buccaneer Magazine Post-Draft Issue. Instead, I'll say that the Bucs will keep five or six wide receivers, depending on special teams, and that there are few locks at the position. As of right now, Keyshawn Johnson, Marquise Walker and Joe Jurevicius are the only sure bets at receiver.

I recently asked a couple of my sources if the Bucs will still have a spot for a developmental receiver despite the veteran additions of Jurevicius, E.G. Green, Karl Williams and perhaps another vet after June 1, and was told that they would. This is good news for players like Frank Murphy and Milton Wynn, two young holdover receivers from last year. My gut instincts tell me that either Murphy or Wynn will make this team, but not both.

Murphy has edged ahead of Wynn in the eyes of the personnel staff right now. He's got more speed, more explosiveness and can make an impact as a gunner or a returner on special teams. Wynn seems to lack that special quality. He's big, but not as big as Keyshawn Johnson, Walker and Jurevicius. He's got some speed, but not like Murphy, Aaron Lockett or probably even Johnson. Wynn will ultimately have to show up on special teams to make the roster. He'll also have to out-work Murphy, who is one of the hardest workers on the team.

Williams is not a lock to make the team, but he will if he can secure his grip on the punt returner job and stave off a charge from Lockett. Green keeps doing good things and I think he has the inside track for one of the receiver spots right now, edging out Darryl Daniel, who showed well at the first mini-camp, but wasn't as impressive at the second mini-camp.

Eddie Hardaway might be a practice squad candidate. He has a real reckless running style like Murphy and Dallas' Raghib Ismail. His shoulder pads shift and slide and he appears to be running out of control, but it's really just his speed. Hardaway has a certain suddenness about him, but he's still raw.

Backup tight end Todd Yoder has dropped a lot of passes during the first two mini-camps and really needs a good showing in training camp. He might be shook up a little bit from going from No. 2 on the depth chart to No. 3 behind Dilger and Battaglia. He needs to relax, have fun and more importantly catch the ball.

He'll get pushed from rookie Tracey Wistrom and fellow backup Mike Roberg, who has had his impressive moments. But it will all boil down to special teams, an area where Yoder excelled late last year. If he can be a force on special teams again, he'll push Roberg back to the practice squad.

FAB 5. The offensive line is pretty well set at the interior with the addition of guard Kerry Jenkins. Now the team has to get a swing tackle to back up Kenyatta Walker and Jerry Wunsch.

The Bucs have been a bit disappointed with the play of Todd Washington. He was really expected to push Jeff Christy for the starting center position, but Christy is firmly entrenched as the starting center. Perhaps putting on the pads will trigger the aggressiveness in Washington during training camp.

It will be interesting to see how depth at guard shakes out. Russ Hochstein was dubbed "Mr. Glass" last year because he broke his hand and his foot and missed most of training camp. He's used up his redshirt year and needs to prove he can play. Shane Grice has the edge because he can play guard and center.

Draft pick Zack Quaccia will likely be a practice squad candidate, and undrafted free agent Howard Duncan and NFL Europe player Kendall Mack have uphill battles in terms of making the team.

DeMarcus Curry and Brian Gruber really need to show something in training camp. Curry has hung around due to his size and power and really needs to come on and be more consistent. The Bucs are trying to play Gruber at left tackle and he seems to lack the foot quickness to play that position. He has a real hard time with speedy edge rushers. Because Curry and Gruber have so many question marks it is imperative that the Bucs sign another veteran tackle. Jenkins could play left tackle in a pinch, but he's a much better guard than a tackle.

Copyright 2002 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com

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