SR's Fab Five

May 23 - In this 2,300-word installment we take a look at the Bucs' OT situation with the acquistion of Roman Oben and re-signing of Pete Pierson. What does that mean for Kenyatta Walker and Jerry Wunsch? Also, switching training camp locales from Tampa to Disney isn't the only upscale move that the Bucs have made since Jon Gruden became coach. Find out what other improvements the team has undergone and how close the Bucs got to signing WR Cris Carter in this week's SR's Fab Five.


Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
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Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. Don't pencil in newly signed offensive tackle Roman Oben as a starter just yet. One local TV sportscaster already proclaimed Oben will be the starter at left tackle and Kenyatta Walker will be moved to right tackle to replace Jerry Wunsch. The last time I checked, Bill Muir decides who starts, and at what position.

The reality is that Oben could start at left tackle or right tackle if either Walker or Wunsch don't have a good showing in training camp, which is a possibility. In case you haven't noticed, the Bucs want to take full advantage of the fact that they will be moving to the weak NFC South division. They've gone the veteran free agent route this spring to replace departed starters on offense and defense. They want to win the division. They want to win now under Jon Gruden. Look at Oben first as insurance in case Wunsch or Walker don't show improvement this summer.

Wunsch was just rewarded with a five-year contract last season complete with a $2.2 million signing bonus. His cap value this year is $1.79 million and jumps to $2.94 million next season. Is the team happy with his play? Satisfied might be a better term. Wunsch has been known to play in spurts and either start the season strong and taper off to finish the season, or start slow and come on strong as the year progresses. The Bucs want a complete season playing at a high level from Wunsch. The hope is that Oben and the recently re-signing of Pete Pierson will push Wunsch to be great. The team wants Wunsch to prove he's worth the big money they shelled out for him last year. If not, he's a backup this year and likely gone next season when he wouldn't be a hit to the Bucs' salary cap.

The Bucs want Walker, not Oben, to be their starting left tackle. Remember, they forfeited their second-round pick last year to move up in the first-round to get him. Given the Bucs' successful track record with landing quality players in the second round (see Mike Alstott, Shaun King, Wunsch, etc.), it's important that Walker live up to his promise as a left tackle for the Bucs' sacrifice. With the exception of tremendously gifted players like Texas' Mike Williams, right tackles aren't worth moving up in the first round for, especially when it means surrendering a second-rounder to move up. That's bad value.

FAB 2. Walker will be given every opportunity to win the left tackle job. Muir may try Walker on the right side to see how he does, and that may actually be a worthwhile experiment. Or it could backfire and stunt his growth at the left tackle position. Walker played right tackle in college at Florida, but at 302 pounds, there are some doubts as to whether he has the girth or strength to hold up on that side of the in the NFL.

Of the 16 players projected to play right tackle in the NFC this year, the average weight of those players is 322 pounds with Walker at right tackle for the Bucs. It's 324 pounds with Wunsch at right tackle.

Of the 15 other right tackles who are projected to start in the NFC, only two -- Atlanta's Todd Weiner (300) and Carolina's Chris Terry (295) -- would weigh less than Walker. Nine of the 15 weigh 320 pounds or more.

Keep in mind that size does not equal strength, but girth, or size and weight, is important for anchoring the right side of the line or wearing down an opponent in the running game over four quarters. At 330 pounds, Wunsch has a better opportunity to wear down a defensive end in the running game over 60 minutes than Walker does with all things, including technique, proper leverage and footwork, being equal.

Walker struggled during the early parts of his rookie season, but finished the season on a positive note with strong performances against good defenses like Baltimore and St. Louis late last year. But one key note about possibly switching Walker from left tackle to right tackle is that it won't be any easier. In fact, it may be even harder mentally and physically.

Most teams will have their quickest and best pass rusher on the right side of the defensive line going against the left tackle. That is usually a star player on defense who rarely comes out of the game, especially in obvious passing situations. Typically, that's only one player for the left tackle to study film on each week, though careful attention must also be placed on the backup. The right defensive end is also usually a lighter player in terms of size, weighing between 255 - 285 pounds.

Left defensive ends, who face the right tackle, tend to almost always be closer to 285 pounds so they can hold up against the run as most teams are "right-handed" or run a higher percentage of rushing plays to the right side of the offensive line. Some of those 285-pounders, like New York's Michael Strahan, are gifted pass rushers and don't come out on passing downs. Carolina's top rookie, 283-pound Julius Peppers, is also expected to be a pass-rushing, every-down threat.

But some teams who don't have complete left ends will use two players -- a run-stuffer and a pass rusher -- at the left end position. New Orleans will use 285-pound Willie Whitehead on run downs and 283-pound rookie Charles Grant on passing downs. The Atlanta Falcons, who are using a 3-4 scheme now under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, will throw a combination of defensive end Brady Smith (273 pounds) and rush linebacker Patrick Kerney (274 pounds) at the Bucs' right tackle twice a year.

Where it can get tricky for a right tackle is when defenses give the tackle completely different looks in passing situations with a smaller, faster player. NFC nemesis Philadelphia will use 285-pound Brandon Whiting against the run, and bring in quicker 266-pound rush end Derrick Burgess, who had six sacks last year, against the pass.

Green Bay will do the same thing with run down defender, 285-pound Joe Johnson and 253-pound pass rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who had three sacks against Walker last year and one against Wunsch. St. Louis follows suit with 290-pound Brian Young, who will replace Chidi Ahanotu on run downs, and 257-pound Leonard Little, who will rush the passer on passing downs. Little had 14.5 sacks last season.

With more teams platooning at the left defensive end position, playing right tackle in the NFL just got harder. Now a right tackle has to legitimately study the pass-rushing moves of at least two players, while the left tackle will typically have to focus on one. Switching Walker to the right side might be a bad idea. Let him stay on the left side and continue to progress.

FAB 3. One more note on the offensive tackle situation. Just as the Bucs didn't get complacent by simply replacing departed players at the wide receiver and tight end position in free agency -- they bolstered them by adding even more veteran depth -- Tampa Bay has taken the same approach along the offensive line.

Hard-working Kerry Jenkins replaced Randall McDaniel, who didn't have any gas left in his tank, at the left guard position. They bolstered the position by re-signing Todd Washington, who can play either guard position or center. The offensive tackle position was bolstered this offseason with the additions of Oben last week and Pierson today.

The Bucs could have stood pat and just replaced Pierson with Oben, who has more career starts at the left tackle position, but they didn't. They re-signed Pierson, who was effective in spelling Wunsch last year in spots last year, and sent DeMarcus Curry packing. Curry was a developmental player who rarely played and never developed. Pierson, like Oben, is capable of playing either side. The foursome of Walker, Wunsch, Oben and Pierson is a much more proven group than last year's foursome of Walker, Wunsch, Pierson and Curry.

Brian Gruber has a chance to make the roster and push either Pierson or Oben out the door, but would need one of those players to be injured or falter, combined with a stellar camp performance from himself. The team likes Gruber's traits and he is still eligible for the practice squad.

FAB 4. Outward appearances suggest than Jon Gruden may already have more clout than Tony Dungy did with the Glazers. Or perhaps Dungy didn't request as many amenities as Gruden already has, or the Glazers just simply didn't accommodate Dungy's request. Either way, things are really happening behind the scenes at One Buc Place under Gruden's watch that have the team's veteran players smiling.

The biggest change has been the switch of training camp locations from the University of Tampa to the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, which is just outside of Orlando. Players will no longer be sleeping in UT's cramped dorm rooms. The Bucs will be enjoying the spaciousness of resort rooms and bigger beds at the 115-room Celebration Hotel, but without room service. The Bucs were never unsatisfied with the facilities at UT, but are happy to be in a more accommodating facility like Disney's complex.

Other planned changes call for the Bucs to be staying in more expensive, luxurious accommodations on road trips this year under Gruden. Instead of staying at Embassy Suites or Doubletree hotels, the team will be looking for more upscale lodging at Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton hotels.

Another major change has already taken place at the team's tiny, One Buccaneer Place compound. With Raymond James Stadium being sold out, the Bucs renovated the main entrance to One Buc Place and did away with the spacious lobby and skybox sales model area. They re-configured that area and produced a huge meeting room big enough to accommodate all of the team's players and coaches at once in a theater-type setting.

The only place that would accommodate 85 players and a dozen coaches at one time before the renovation was the team's cramped locker room or outside on the practice field. But there was no area to for the entire team to get together to meet and watch film. Instead, the players break up into squads to watch film and meet with assistant coaches. The team's new headquarters, which is expected to be completed in 2004, will have an even bigger and better theater with stadium-style seating for team meetings.

With Gruden being acquired by the Bucs in the middle of the night by the Glazers in an eleventh-hour trade with Al Davis' Oakland Raiders, there was no interview between the coach and Tampa Bay's owners. None of these proposed changes were talked about prior to Gruden's arrival in Tampa Bay, so perhaps the Glazers feel obligated to fulfill some of Gruden's requests or maybe they just want to.

FAB 5. One final note. Don't think that the Bucs were overly interested in acquiring former Minnesota receiver Cris cancer, er, Carter. Tampa Bay initially talked about a deal in the neighborhood of the veteran league minimum early in free agency.

With Jon Gruden as lead recruiter, the Bucs have gotten every free agent that they have targeted this offseason with the exception of running back Warrick Dunn, punt returner David Allen and linebacker Allen Aldridge. And missing out on those three won't make or break the team.

Fans should be thankful that the team didn't land Carter, who is a selfish, outspoken player who would have been a terrible fit in Tampa Bay's locker room. The fact that teams which needed a wide receiver, such as Cleveland, St. Louis and Miami, passed on him for only a couple of million per year is quite telling.

Enjoy HBO, Cris. The Vikings and the NFL are better off without your sideline tirades and tantrums.

BONUS: To those who sent us e-mails regarding our recent name change from Buccaneer Magazine and BucMag.com to Pewter Report and PewterReport.com, thank you for the feedback. Almost all of it has been very positive. We'll run some of those e-mails in our next issue, our big training camp issue, which is due out in late July. That issue will be our first under the Pewter Report name.

We'd like to bring back Voices From The Grandstand, our regular fan forum in the magazine, but need your help. We need your letters or e-mails. We could just pull some comments off the message boards just to fill space, but would rather have you send us letters or e-mails that you want published in Pewter Report. You may write to us at:

Voices c/o Pewter Report 14823 N. Florida Avenue Tampa, FL 33613

Or e-mail us at:sreynold@tampabay.rr.com

We want to know what you think about all of the offseason changes to the Bucs' roster, training camp being held at Disney, new coach Jon Gruden or the Buccaneer Magazine/Pewter Report name change. Drop us a line today and be sure to include your full name, city and state. Thanks in advance and go Bucs!


Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com

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