SR's Fab Five

June 19 - In this 2,300-word edition of SR's Fab Five we'll discuss QB Rob Johnson's progression up the depth chart, rookie WR Marquise Walker's struggles, WR Keith Poole's tenuous situation with his hamstring and the Bucs, the lack of practice time for special teams at the Bucs' three mini-camps and the heightening of emotions from the Bucs' coaching staff since Jon Gruden's arrival. Don't miss this offseason SR's Fab Five!

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

FAB 1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden tried to debunk the fact that Rob Johnson was seemingly elevated to second-string quarterback status and taking the majority of snaps after Brad Johnson during practice on Thursday. After the media reported Rob Johnson's extended work after Thursday's practice, Shaun King took the majority of snaps after Brad Johnson on Friday, leaving practice on-lookers to wonder who was actually No. 2 on the depth chart.

Gruden said that the depth chart wasn't set and that he personally liked to mix up the number of snaps quarterbacks get in certain situations and on certain days. But whether Rob Johnson is listed as the No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart doesn't take anything away from how well he performed at the Bucs' third mini-camp.

Regardless of the number of snaps, Rob Johnson is the Bucs' No. 2 quarterback right now in my mind, and I think he is in Gruden's too. He's playing better and more consistently than King is. My insiders tell me that King was awful during the team's scrimmage in Raymond James Stadium two Thursdays ago and hasn't had too many practices that would be deemed great.

Pocket presence is one of the areas Rob Johnson has been working on. He's been in two offenses in Jacksonville and Buffalo that really like to push the ball down the field, so he's been trained to wait until something develops deep. After all, dumping the ball off was considered a sin in Tom Coughlin's Jaguars offense.

Gruden has been working with Rob Johnson's sense of timing and developing an "inner alarm clock" to get rid of the ball in a timely fashion instead of taking a sack. When he gets outside of the pocket, Johnson is deadly accurate and always seems to locate the right receiver. He just needs to develop the same feel for reading defenses and making throws inside the pocket.

Buffalo Bills fans will preach that Johnson has always looked great during practice and lousy in games and that he is a tease. Let's see how he does in Tampa before we buy into those sentiments. It has been proven that quarterbacks can improve as they get older and that a change of scenery can work wonders. Look how Gruden helped Rich Gannon's career when he left Kansas City and became a three-time Pro Bowler in Oakland. And even Trent Dilfer became a better quarterback after leaving Tampa Bay and heading off to Baltimore and Seattle, where he is finally a starting quarterback again.

I wouldn't be surprised if the move to Tampa and working under Gruden doesn't make Rob Johnson a starting quarterback again, too. Don't look for Gruden to come out with any rock solid depth chart until near the end of training camp. As a coach who loves competition, anointing Rob Johnson the current place of No. 2 on the depth chart might dampen King's enthusiasm in camp and turn what is supposed to be a three-person race for the starting quarterback spot into a two-person race.

While we're on this subject, I remember talking to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receivers coach Charlie Williams two years ago before camp and gathering some information for my wide receivers preview for our training camp issue. I said, "Come on Charlie, it's June and you already know which five receivers will make this team. Even I know which five will make this team," and then I rattled off the names.

Off the record, he agreed with me but said that he couldn't go on the record because then six other receivers at camp wouldn't have the desire to compete for the fourth and fifth receiver spots if they know that the depth chart had already been determined. He then said, "What if one of our top five goes down for the count like Horace (Copeland) did (in 1996)? Then I need to count on one of the other six to make the team because we'll need him."

Good point.

FAB 2. Last week we hinted on the premium Pewter Board that third-round draft pick Marquise Walker might be having a disappointing offseason. Coaches and personnel staffers won't go that far on the record, but hinted that he may not be a big contributor this season as he's still learning the pace of NFL practices -- not to mention Jon Gruden's playbook.

What we heard prior to the Bucs' third mini-camp was that Gruden was really getting on Walker's case during practices. I witnessed that first-hand on Walker's first play from scrimmage in Thursday's practice, which kicked off Tampa Bay's third mini-camp. Gruden jumped all over Walker for lining up in the wrong position.

Walker looks good catching the ball, but it is obvious that he is still getting used to the tempo and the concentration level required at Gruden's practices. Gruden even hinted that Walker wasn't standing out in the spring practices, but then quickly said that he thought Walker would be a more physical player who really shines once the pads on. I asked one personnel honcho if the Bucs had drafted Walker to "redshirt" behind Johnson, McCardell and Joe Jurevicius for a year or two and then emerge as a starter. He said that while that may or may not happen, he thinks Walker will get a chance to compete for playing time this year. Reading through the spin, my take on it is if Walker contributes this year, great. If not, he's got the potential to be a starter down the road.

Even though Walker wasn't a first-round draft pick, he will be heavily scrutinized because he was the team's first pick this year and the first-ever draft pick under Gruden in Tampa. From what some of my sources said and hinted at, and from what I've seen, Walker has a long way to go before he becomes a regular contributor in this offense. To expect more than 20 catches from Walker in 2002 at this point in time would be viewed as highly optimistic.

FAB 3. As we've been discussing for weeks now, wide receiver Keith Poole's status with the team is tenuous at best. There was one report that said he was even contemplating whether he should even play football this year or not. Poole has been plagued with hamstring problems for the better part of his pro career and has missed 95 percent of the offseason work due to a hamstring he tweaked at the Bucs' first mini-camp in April.

The fact that Joe Jurevicius has been given Poole's No. 83 jersey isn't a good sign for Poole, either.

After seeing some fans' versions of which receivers will make the 53-man roster in their posts around various message boards -- and seeing those fans actually including Poole on the final 53 -- it's time to come out and say it again. Poole will be cut before he makes it to training camp. Even rookie Aaron Lockett is much farther ahead of Poole in terms of learning the offense and getting in rhythm with the Bucs' quarterbacks.

In fact, we are beginning to see some separation in the receiver position after the last mini-camp. Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Jurevicius and Marquise Walker are locks to make the team, even though Walker hasn't really been dazzling. That leaves one -- likely two -- spots open at wide receiver.

A group of receivers including Frank Murphy, E.G. Green and Karl Williams appear to be separating themselves from Milton Wynn, Darryl Daniel, Eddie Hardaway, Aaron Lockett and Jermale Kelly, who is over in NFL Europe. We'll caution you to remember that the pads haven't come on yet and that special teams will likely decide who claims the final receiver spot or spots. But it would take some eye-opening performances.

FAB 4. I'm sure this will change once training camp rolls around, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't spend a lot of time on special teams during the team's three mini-camps this year under Jon Gruden. Former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy allocated much more time for special teams during the mini-camp sessions compared to Gruden.

Under Dungy, the Bucs practiced more field goals and punts and even kickoff return and kickoff coverage. Under Gruden, the Bucs practiced less field goals and punts and rarely lined up for kickoff return and coverage. That's not to say that these areas of special teams are being ignored though. Special teams coach Richard Bisaccia and his squads could have very well been practicing more often during the team's offseason workouts that weren't open to the media.

Some NFL teams don't allocate much practice time to special teams while others, like Dungy's Bucs, spent quite a bit of time on it. Former special teams coach Joe Marciano's kick and punt coverage units were outstanding because of the attention to detail spent during extended practice periods. The kicking units were also very successful as was the punt return squad.

We'll keep a close eye on how much practice time Gruden devotes to special teams, which of course is regarded as one-third of a football team, and keep our Insiders informed.

FAB 5. It hasn't reached the epic Kevin Gilbride-Buddy Ryan proportions yet, but there is war brewing between members of the Bucs coaching staff. It's offensive coaches versus defensive coaches -- but it's a healthy competition. Don't expect Monte Kiffin to slug Jon Gruden on the sidelines like Ryan did to Gilbride back in their Houston Oilers days.

The level of competition at One Buccaneer Place has never been higher due to Gruden's arrival in February, and it has spilled over into the coaching ranks. Tampa Bay's animated defensive coaching staff had to be somewhat internally restrained over the past few years so as not to show up normally stoic head coach Tony Dungy. Those days are over.

Under Gruden, who regularly shouts words of praise and disgust at players, the defensive coaching staff -- Kiffin, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, linebackers coach Joe Barry and defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin -- has become much more excitable and vocal in practice.

Tomlin pumps his fist like Tiger Woods after Dwight Smith dives to break up a pass. Barry jumps and high-fives Shelton Quarles after making the proper blitz adjustment. Marinelli yells out words of disdain after Ellis Wyms takes the wrong angle in pursuit. Kiffin launches his playsheet across the field and stomps after tight end Marco Battaglia is left wide open. The Bucs coaching staff is taking Gruden's cue and letting their emotions out, which keeps the entire practice session fully charged with energy.

On the offensive side, Gruden and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir are the most vocal. Richard Mann does a lot of talking, but it's in a much lower decibel level. The other offensive coaches might become more vocal during training camp as the intensity and temperature heats up, or just follow Gruden's lead.

The thing that I like is that on the practice field the defense takes an "us against them" approach against Gruden and the offensive staff and players. Gruden does a little trash talkin' to Warren Sapp and Kiffin and Co., and there is some good-natured trash talkin' exchanged between offensive and defensive players and even coaches.

It isn't to the point where it is disrespectful or unhealthy, nor will it ever get that way. But to finally witness such a highly competitive practice between an evenly matched offense and defense in Tampa Bay is an amazing sight to see.

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Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/

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