BucsBlitz.com's weekly Postscripts column returns after a three-week hiatus.
Yes, I'm back from my Italian vacation. I missed that Italian air traffic controllers' strike by just a few days, thank goodness. I certainly didn't want to spend any more time in the land of Vino and three-hour lunches.
Oh, and two weeks in Tuscany and I couldn't find Diane Lane anywhere. I'm firing my travel agent.
Oh, we'll. Back to business.
Best wishes to Brooks: Condolences go out to veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks after the death of his mother, Geraldine Mitchell, on Monday after a long bout with breast cancer. Brooks skipped the voluntary workouts this week to take care of funeral arrangements and be with his family in Pensacola. There's no word on whether he'll be back for the next round of voluntary workouts on June 5-7.
Kelly shows up. Now what?: Cornerback Brian Kelly showed up for voluntary workouts this week, dousing a warming rumor mill about his future. He told the media he intends to be at the Bucs' mandatory June 19-21 mini-camp and at the opening of training camp on July 26 at Lake Buena Vista. He said he doesn't intend to hold out, but wouldn't mind a new contract.
Kelly has two years left on his deal. He'll be paid $3.6 million this fall (which includes a $1 million roster bonus). He'll make about $3.2 million in 2008. That's not chump change, but when compared to the Top 5 cornerbacks in the NFL, he's underpaid (the Top 5 each make at least $3.6 million in base salary, plus bonus money). Kelly's teammate, Ronde Barber, makes $3 million in base, plus bonuses.
Now, I don't think Kelly is a Top 5 corner, but he's a vital part of this defense. He's the team's interception leader since 2002. More important is the Bucs' record with Kelly in the lineup — 37-29 — and without Kelly in the lineup — 11-19.
Some guys just know how to win.
I don't expect Kelly and his agent to play contract brinksmanship with the Bucs. Players need only look at Keenan McCardell's treatment in 2003 to get a taste of how the Bucs treat holdouts. But the Bucs would be mindful to remember that record without Kelly, and their limited veteran depth at corner, when dealing with Kelly in the future. The Bucs need Kelly more than Kelly needs the Bucs, if you ask me.
Pittman on the block?: The Sporting News ran a blurb that backup running back Michael Pittman would need to have a better than average camp to keep his job, citing the Bucs' desire to make Cadillac Williams a third-down back. I'm wary of this. First, Williams has not proven he can be a three-down back, and he's weighed down mostly by those pesky foot injuries the past two years. It would be better to ease him into that role and allow him to share more third-down touches with Pittman first (I'd like to know how those third-down touches were distributed last season, too). Second, the Bucs still don't have a viable kick returner and Pittman did a solid job last season in the role. At this moment he's too valuable to the Bucs — and a relative bargain at $1 million in base salary this season — to be cut.
Speed freak: Sprinter Justin Gatlin's invitation to work out with the Bucs during rookie mini-camp reminds me of two notable track stars that attempted the football transition. Naturally, there was Bob "Bullet" Hayes, who some contend should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for how his speed changed the way defenses played the passing game in the 1960s. Also, there was Renaldo Nehemiah, one of the world's best hurdlers in the 1980s who took his shot with San Francisco. He caught 43 passes in three seasons with the Niners.
Gatlin didn't get a contract offer from the Bucs, though that probably has little to do with the possible eight-year ban he faces from track and field for failing a drug test last summer. It probably has more to do with the fact that his speed didn't translate to the football field.
Success at a bargain: Remember the relative bargain defensive tackle Chris Hovan was two years ago, and the payoff for the Bucs' defense as a result? I think the Bucs have acquired two players that can be that type of bargain in 2007.
Defensive tackle Ryan Sims, acquired for a 2008 draft pick, may thrive in the Tampa 2 system because the Bucs will be asking him to penetrate the line of scrimmage, as opposed to the lateral plays he was asked to make in Kansas City. Tampa Bay has struggled with rushing the passer from the interior since Warren Sapp left. If Sims (6-foot-4, 315 pounds) can winnow a bit more weight off his frame and show he has the speed and can maintain that all-important under tackle gap, that will reduce the need to use ends Kevin Carter and Greg Spires inside, improving the depth on the outside.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens signed for just $600,000 and won't see any of that unless he plays. That's motivation enough for a first-round pick seeking to rehabilitate his image. Forget everything that's happened off the field (which is what finally soured Seattle on him). Like Sims, Stevens is considered an underachiever. He's talented enough to be a 60-catch per year tight end, but his career high is 45 receptions. He has enough speed and height to stretch defenses and give the quarterback a great over-the-middle target. The best thing Stevens can do this season is to keep his mouth shut and play.
If these two players pan out like Hovan did in 2005, the Bucs will become better almost immediately.
Matthew Postins covers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and for the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla.