SR's Fab Five

October 4 - PEWTERREPORT.COM EXCLUSIVE: The Bucs are gearing up for a contract extension with MLB Shelton Quarles -- full details inside this report. Also: the inside scoop on new WR Charles Lee, the full plate at FB with Darian Barnes, Jameel Cook and Mike Alstott, the fan appeal of Atlanta QB Michael Vick and more in this 2,000-word edition!

SR's Fab Five usually appears weekly on PewterReport.com
Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Club Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

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

FAB 1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have liked what they have seen from new middle linebacker Shelton Quarles through four games. So much so that the team may consider giving Quarles a contract extension before the end of the year when he will become an unrestricted free agent.

Quarles -- not perennial tackle leader Derrick Brooks -- leads the team with 39 stops and is on track to record a career-high 156. Jamie Duncan, the Bucs' middle linebacker over the past two years, posted a career-high 130 tackles last year with two sacks, one interception and five passes defensed. Quarles is on a more productive pace than Duncan and recorded his first sack of the season against the St. Louis Rams two weeks ago, and snared his first interception last week at Cincinnati, scoring a touchdown on a 25-yard return.

The fact that Quarles has made such a quick transition from the strongside linebacker spot to the middle of the defense is just what the team expected, and couldn't be happier with the results. Quarles' agent, Jim Steiner, met with general manager Rich McKay during the summer to open discussions regarding a contract extension. But Tampa Bay's front office wanted to wait and see how he fared in his new role before committing to a long-term deal. But Quarles' red hot start to the 2002 season may increase the Bucs' desire to quickly lock him up or risk him taking a big season into the free agent market in 2003 where a bidding war could erupt.

"Rich and I will be meeting in the next couple of weeks to discuss this," Steiner told PewterReport.com. regarding a possible extension for Quarles in the near future. "(Quarles) deserves the deal. He's playing well and seems to be making a good adjustment (to middle linebacker).

Last year as the team's starter on the strong side, Quarles recorded only 77 tackles and recorded 2.5 sacks and had one interception. He's already halfway to those totals through only four games at middle linebacker.

FAB 2. For Buccaneers fans who were tantalized and intrigued by the talents of former Tampa Bay wide receiver Milton Wynn, the team presents Charles Lee.

"If you liked Milton, you'll really like Charles Lee," one Bucs insider told PewterReport.com. "He's built the same -- 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds -- and runs a sub-4.6. He's built just like Milton, but he has more experience. He has a good future in the league."

New head coach Jon Gruden likes physical receivers, but wasn't ready to take on unfinished projects like Wynn, who had only played one year of Division I-A football before being drafted out of Washington State, and Frank Murphy, who converted to wide receiver after playing running back at Kansas State.

Lee was an accomplished pass catcher at the University of Central Florida, and was Daunte` Culpepper's favorite target in college. Lee signed with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 1999, but got caught up in a numbers game with the Vikings already having Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed on hand. The Bucs tried to sign him after the '99 NFL Draft, but Lee thought his chemistry with Culpepper would help him succeed in Minnesota.

The Bucs nearly signed him when Murphy was released in the final roster cutdown in September, but Gruden opted for a familiar face in Reggie Barlow, who had played for him in Oakland. But when third-round draft pick Marquise Walker went down with torn ligaments in his thumb and was placed on injured reserve, the Bucs finally got their man when they signed Lee, ending a mild, four-year infatuation with the young receiver.

FAB 3. Expect the Buccaneers to activate fullback Jameel Cook this week. After spending the last two weeks on the inactive list while the team gets a look at rookie newcomer Darian Barnes, Cook will get another chance to impress the coaching staff this week at Atlanta.

Tampa Bay currently has three fullbacks on the roster including Barnes, Cook and Mike Alstott, who moonlights as a running back in Jon Gruden's offense. Like the tight end position, which was brimming over with four when Rickey Dudley was added into the mix with Ken Dilger, Marco Battaglia and Todd Yoder, the Bucs are overflowing with fullbacks. Except the Bucs to jettison either Cook or Barnes if the team needs another roster spot if they lose another player to injury. But running backs coach Kirby Wilson would love to keep Cook and Barnes around.

"We think we've got two young fullbacks who are developing into good football players," Wilson told PewterReport.com. "The younger of the two, Darian, is still in the learning process of the offense and the ins and outs of the adjustments and the checks of the system.

"Jameel Cook is developing. He's played some last year as a rookie. He's still growing after being a converted halfback. We think he's got a bright future ahead of him. We think that both of them will be top-flight fullbacks in this league and we'd like to keep them both. All that will depend on how they develop and of course, injuries. The staff and the front office will make those decisions down the road."

It's early, and there is a lot of football to be played in 2002, but some insiders have told Pewter Report that the team may prefer to keep conventional fullbacks like Cook and the 260-pound Barnes as opposed to Alstott, who is struggling as a ballcarrier in Gruden's offense. Cook and Barnes have the ability to be true lead back types while Alstott hasn't emerged as a punishing blocker.

If Michael Pittman can emerge as a feature back and Aaron Stecker can develop into a solid, No. 2 ballcarrier, Alstott may be expendable next year despite signing a new, four-year contract extension this spring. Alstott's signing bonus was only $2 million, and if he was cut, his accelerated $1.5 million prorated signing bonus would simply cancel out his $1.6 million base salary next year and his release wouldn't actually cost the Bucs more than they had budgeted for next year. They would simply be without Alstott, but the team would have his open roster spot.

FAB 4. You've heard all of the hoopla regarding how dangerous Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is as a scrambler with a rocket arm. But here's a different take. While some media pundits proclaim him as the Michael Jordan of football (wasn't that supposed to be Daunte` Culpepper or Randy Moss?) for his athleticism and dazzling, playmaking ability, I think he will be the Michael Jordan of football in terms of his drawing power.

Much like almost everyone (except yours truly) became a bandwagon Chicago Bulls fan when Jordan's greatness burst on display, I suspect that Vick will create the same type of national fandom for the Falcons. I expect Vick to be a major draw at stadiums around the country in the next year or two when his skills really blossom and take off. Places like Arizona and Cincinnati could record sellouts because people want to see Vick. His appeal may be more mesmerizing than John Elway or even Dan Marino in their prime.

While the Bucs-Packers game became the annual divisional big draw for Tampa Bay fans who wanted to see their defense try to stop Brett Favre from another miracle comeback, the Bucs-Falcons game will soon be the top game on the schedule each year at Raymond James Stadium.

"He's one of those guys who I would pay to see," said Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson of Vick. "Guys are comparing him to Michael Jordan, and rightfully so."

For the last year I've said that the Falcons will wind up being the Bucs' greatest rival for a variety of reasons, and with Vick's emergence as a star player, this rivalry will only be magnified.

FAB 5. A few parting shots:

- I'll pat myself on the back for correctly predicting the demise of the St. Louis Rams last week before the loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Now they are really done. I'll also pat myself on the back for correctly predicting that the Bucs would "cruise past the the Bengals en route to a 3-1 record and a showdown next week with new NFC South division rival Atlanta."

- The Bucs' running game is close to breaking out. Last week, the team rushed for a season-high 101 yards behind the gutty performance of left guard Kerry Jenkins, who was playing with a broken leg. Michael Pittman rushed for a season-high 54 yards, which isn't much, but came real close to posting his first 100-yard game as a Buccaneer. In the fourth quarter, Pittman busted up the middle for a big gain and was a shoestring tackle away from a 42-yard touchdown. Instead, Pittman was stopped after a big gain of 17 yards.

"He was close," Wilson said of Pittman's big run. "We really needed that. That could have jump-started us and taken us to the next level and the next phase of our running game. We think that's right around the corner. We're waiting on that. Hopefully that comes this week."

- I would like to take this time to publicly thank wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson for making a major funding contribution to my new grill, which I purchased this week. My wife Elisa and I had some great barbeque chicken on the grill on Friday night, and we both thought of Keyshawn after every delicious bite. If only Kansas State could play Southern California every year in football -- I could retire early (K-State is now 2-0 versus USC with big wins in 2001 and 2002).

- PewterReport.com Insiders, stay tuned to our website for some BIG changes in the coming weeks. We're going to expand our Insiders coverage AND dramatically lower the price at the same time. Right now our website "partner", TheInsiders.com, has complete control over the pricing, which is very troubling to us, considering the price has been raised twice this year. That's not our fault, and we've greatly objected over the outrageous new prices they've imposed on Bucs fans. Unfortunately, that's all I can say for now. Stay tuned to the Ask The Insiders message boards in the next few weeks for more information. We're 100 percent sure you'll love the changes we have in store.


Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Club Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

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