DE Gaines Adams (fourth overall)
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen made it clear in January that the Bucs' pass rush had to improve.
"You've got to have pressure," Gruden said. "You've got to have pressure. You've got to have pressure and then you've got to have more pressure. That's what you've got to have. In the NFL, you've got to have pressure."
The Bucs drafted Clemson DE Gaines Adams for that very purpose on Saturday.
And the Bucs need Adams to make am impact.
Last year's defense generated just 25 sacks, its worst total since notching 25 in 1995. That was the year before Tony Dungy brought the Cover 2, and along with it current defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
The Cover 2 defense is built around the concept that the front four of the defense brings pressure on the quarterback without the blitz, allowing the back seven — the linebackers and the secondary — to drop in coverage and play their assignments. When the concept worked in Tampa Bay, the Bucs were a Top 10 defense for nine seasons running from 1997-2005.
But last year that ranking fell to No. 17. It's no shock that the anemic pass rush was a factor and Adams' pure pass rush ability separated himself from the rest of the defensive line pack, Gruden said.
Rice spent half the season inactive or on injured reserve preparing for shoulder surgery, which he now appears to be fully recovered from. Rice had just two sacks, his worst single-season total ever.
Spires, Ellis Wyms — a tackle — and end Dewayne White, who replaced Rice, each led the Bucs with five sacks. So, when White departed for Detroit, he took with him one-fifth of the Bucs' sack production a year ago.
Adams will be Rice's immediate backup, Gruden said Saturday. But Gruden also said he's focused more on getting maximum effort out of Adams to start with, because the learning curve at defensive end in the NFL can be daunting.
"There's a lot of schemes and a lot of sets they have to see and get a full feel for," Gruden said. "He's going to see some different (offensive) tackles that he didn't dream existed. He's going to see a lot of different blocking schemes, ways of neutralizing a great pass rusher. There's a lot of stunts and a lot of different aspects of our defense that he has to learn. He'll be dropping in coverage, stunting, things of that nature. It involves checks and calls that we use and he has to learn. It's a difficult position, and when you're a very good pass rusher the opposition knows it and they try to make your life tough."
In that aspect, Gruden believes Adams is in a good situation, thanks to the team's veteran ends. Their influence could accelerate Adams' learning curve.
"I think we have great room for him to flourish," Gruden said. "You talk about Rice. There's the addition of Kevin Carter, one of the truly great pro football players in the league. He's in great shape, he plays every Sunday and he's a great leader. Chris Hovan, Greg Spires, there's a real quality environment for him (Adams) with great quality football players to learn from."
The Bucs new defensive line coach, Larry Coyer, didn't compare Adams to Rice, but rather to one of his former players, Trevor Pryce.
"When you put them on tape its uncanny how much they look alike," Coyer said. "In college they had the same body structure. Trevor could have played anywhere on the line, and Adams is athletic enough to do the same, play a lot of different places."
For his part, Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin felt the selection was warranted at No. 4. He paid less attention to Adams' combine numbers and rather his tape, where he believed he saw an immediate impact player that can make the entire defensive line better.
"We saw a lot of plays where he showed flexibility and balance and speed off the edge," Kiffin said. "To be a good defensive end, you have to have speed. If you're fast off the edge, then you can make your countermove. If you're not (fast), then you can't. You have to get the left tackle to open up and that helps your three technique."
Scout.com's Tom Marino said that Adams has more than enough frame to add the 15 pounds he needs to be a full-time defensive end on the right side. He said it's likely that Adams will see about 20-to-25 plays his rookie season, which Marino said means Adams would essentially be a starter.
Earlier this week, BucsBlitz.com reported that a rotation between Rice and Adams might benefit both players, allowing Adams more time to acclimate to the NFL and Rice a chance to preserve himself from wearing down late in the season.
Additionally, this pick protects the Bucs when Rice becomes a free agent after the 2007 season. It's likely the cost of re-signing Rice will be prohibitive, especially if he returns to his normal 11-to-14 sack form.
It all adds up to a solid — and smart pick — for the Buccaneers in the first round.
OG Arron Sears (35th overall)
With 2005 rookie starter Dan Buenning battling a persistent ankle injury, and the age of newly-signed left tackle Luke Petitgout, the Buccaneers obviously felt a need to address the offensive line with the selection of Sears.
Sears can potentially address several needs for Tampa Bay. First, most scouts agree he can play immediately because of his size (6-foot-3, 317 pounds), hand punch and angle blocking. That will benefit the Bucs if Buenning is unable to be ready for training camp, which remains a possibility.
Second, Sears is tough enough to play a natural guard. He's considered a road grader who is best suited for a power blocking scheme. With last year's first-round pick Davin Joseph on the right side, the obvious slot is to eventually slide Sears into the left side, which creates an interesting logjam if Buenning is ready for camp and last year's starting left tackle, Anthony Davis, continues to work inside. The Bucs moved Davis there during the first set of OTAs to give Davis some experience at left guard (he's one of the team's better run blockers).
That appears to the position the Buccaneers had the most to talk about with Sears during his visit two weeks ago.
"When I was there we talked about the guard and maybe a little bit about the right tackle position," Sears said. "I'll find out more when I get down there."
Third, he can play tackle in a pinch. He did so last year for Tennessee. He's probably not a long-term answer at the position — he isn't believed to have the speed to handle speed rushers. But he can provide a spell for Petitgout or Davis. He's played four of the five line positions (center is the exception), so his versatility is a big bonus for a line that lost its best swing interior lineman — Sean Mahan — to free agency.
But he's big and he's considered a first-class run blocker, and given the problems the Buccaneers had running the football last year, that's a welcome addition. RB Cadillac Williams' production fell off markedly last year, as he gained just 798 yards after rushing for 1,178 yards as a rookie. Also, the Bucs' yards per carry average dropped from 4.0 in 2005 to 3.8 in 2006. That doesn't seem like much, but the Bucs' overall rushing yardage dropped from 1,826 yards to 1,523 yards, and their win total dropped from 11 to 4.
Most importantly, the offensive line's deficiencies last year caused Gruden to lack confidence in the line. That was never more evident than in the Meadowlands in October, when Gruden had rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski throw 48 passes in swirling winds and ran the ball only 13 times against a depleted New York Giants defensive line.
In full, Sears is a logical pick at this position because he's a first-round talent drafted in the second round. Now that Gruden has made it clear that Sears will be a competitor at left guard and that Buenning will compete at center, the way seems clear for the Bucs to have a third starting rookie guard in as many years (Buenning in 2005, Davin Joseph in 2006).
S Sabby Piscitelli (64th overall)
The first thing that sticks out is his ability to hit, according to Gruden. In fact, it's the first thing just about every scout lists. He can hit, and hit hard. Scouts compare him to St. Louis' Terrence Holt, and he might even remind some people of former Bucs safety John Lynch. At 6-foot-2, 223 pounds, no one's going to run him over unless they've got a good head of steam.
Another quality Gruden liked was his penchant for showing up for big games. He had eight tackles and a pass breakup in Oregon State's upset of USC, then the nation's No. 1 team.
He's a weight room rat, he can get to the point of attack swiftly and can match up against tight ends, a key when playing the safety position.
"He's got a lot of upside," Gruden said. "Watching him against USC, he was a big reason why they won. He makes tremendous plays in key situations. He's missed some tackles but he'll hit you. They had a lot of things in that system that he handled well. We need his opportunism on defense."
Ah, the tackling. Gruden acknowledged it. New defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said the reputation was borne of one missed tackle in one big game, not a season-wide trend. He said in his film work during the scouting process he found Piscitelli to be a good form tackler.
My guess is they want this guy to hit and hit hard, much the way Lynch used to. There's a reputation for tenacity in this defense that was missing last year, especially at safety (defensive line coach Larry Coyer, who was in Denver last year, admits teams saw it the last two years). Pro Football Weekly called the guy a "pretender." ESPN said the guy has the ability to win jump balls. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Given that he played special teams at OSU (he was the gunner) and has 4.45 speed, he'll work punt and kickoff coverage immediately and be able to compete with Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen at the safety positions, but I'm not sure he wins a starting job for opening day.
LB Quincy Black (68th overall)
The first thing that stands out about Black is his measurables. He can run a 4.4 40-yard dash and has a 42-inch vertical leap. He appears to be freakishly athletic.
Plus, he played in a scheme in New Mexico that allowed him to use his speed to the fullest.
"It's a scheme people refer to as the (Brian) Urlacher scheme, where he's kind of a robber playing in a semi-deep middle linebacker position or shallow free safety position," Gruden said. "They allowed him to run sideline to sideline and make plays. It's not a defense that's conventional in terms of other people running it."
Urlacher played a similar position at New Mexico and that worked out pretty well. But Urlacher is bigger than Black (6-1 ½, 225), so don't expect the Bucs' third-round pick to roam around the middle. Gruden sees him as a strong-side or a weak-side linebacker.
The biggest adjustment for Black will be learning to play closer to the line of scrimmage. In New Mexico's scheme Black played about nine yards off the line. In Tampa Bay's scheme he'll play about four years off the line. But most scouts agree that his speed made him a good fit for a Cover 2 system and Black doesn't believe the transition will be an uphill battle.
"I think I will be able to pick it up quickly," Black said. "With the coaches we have in Tampa Bay, I think it will be great. I think I will definitely be able to pick it up."
Black is clearly a special teams contributor to start. His speed and nose for the football will be clearly usable there. What's not clear is how quickly he'll pick up the scheme and compete for playing time. The weak side (Derrick Brooks) isn't in dispute. The strong side (Ryan Nece and Cato June) is, and there's room in the middle as Barrett Ruud is the only player there.
I don't see Black ready to start by September. What I do see is a special teams performer that could worm his way into a backup role and possible third-down reps if he shows an ability to pick up the scheme and handle coverage, where the entire linebacking corps was lacking a year ago.