SR's Fab Five

October 19 - In this week's edition of SR's Fab Five we'll tell you why the D.C. area sniper is hitting close to home for Bucs TE Casey Crawford, why TE Rickey Dudley's poor blocking has him falling out favor with the team, why re-signing Monte Kiffin was a smart move by the Bucs, why there may be a FB controversy instead of a RB controversy in Tampa Bay, and what the Bucs have to do to beat Philadelphia this week. Click here for the inside scoop!

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

FAB 1. Sometimes what's reported in the news just hits home. When Linda Franklin was shot to death by the man they are calling the Washington D.C. area sniper (even though he's not a real sniper) at a Home Depot in the Seven Corners shopping center in Falls Church, Va. on Tuesday, October 15, it sent chills up my spine. I've been to that Home Depot.

My father and stepmother's house is about four minutes away from Seven Corners. My stepbrother and his family live about 10 minutes away from the Home Depot, as do my cousin and his family. My dad, stepbrother and cousin go to that particular store all the time. So do Casey Crawford's parents.

Crawford is a tight end on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad. His parents live a mile or two away from mine, and like me, he has been to that shopping center time and time again. In fact, his mother may have avoided death by waiting until Wednesday to shop at the Home Depot.

"My mom was at that Home Depot on Wednesday," Crawford said. "She was actually going to go the night it happened. It's just a few miles from my house. I've been there before. I've ridden my bike up there or my skateboard up there. It hits close to home. It makes you realize that somebody lost a mother, somebody lost a wife or a sister. It's a horrible thing. It's a cowardly act that there is no excuse for. I just hope they catch the guy before someone else has to suffer that."

While some D.C. area residents are fearful of going outside and are crouching down to pump gas in their vehicles, Crawford said his parents remain vigilant, yet carry on their daily routine.

"My parents aren't terribly afraid," Crawford said. "If you look at the big scope of things, the percentage of people who have been killed is pretty miniscule. There are millions of people that live in that area. There are car wrecks up there that kill people every day. I know my parents are living in fear. It's more just disgust that someone would be that cowardly and sick to just go out and murder people that way. It's appalling."

When the shootings first started two weeks ago in his hometown, Crawford admitted it was hard to focus on football.

"It makes you angry," Crawford said. "It makes you want to go out there and find the guy. Of course they already have a good group of law enforcement officers up there, I'm just praying they do it quickly. You feel like your security is being invaded. Most Americans think it's safe to go get gas, or going to Home Depot in a good area. I think he's taken away a lot of security from people in that area."

Out of all of the team's practice squad players, Crawford may be the most intriguing. He's been on the practice squad since being released by Carolina five weeks ago, and remarkably has three years of NFL experience. Most practice squad players are rookies, or first- or second-year players.

The 6-foot-6 Crawford is a muscular 255-pounder with good hands and good speed. He must work on his blocking and special teams skills, but he could be a factor for the Bucs at tight end later this year or perhaps next year.

FAB 2. Speaking of tight ends, the excitement about the recent acquisition of Rickey Dudley may be wearing off a bit. Dudley, who was signed as a free agent four weeks ago, caught a touchdown against St. Louis in his first action with the Bucs, and then followed that up with a 35-yard score against Cincinnati.

But since then, Dudley has just one catch for three yards over the last two weeks, and his blocking has been less than stellar. The Bucs have used less two-tight end formations than expected this season, and when the Bucs run out of the two-tight end set, it is rarely to Dudley's side.

The problem with Dudley being a sub-par blocker is that blocking is also third-string tight end Todd Yoder's weakness. It seems the Bucs can only rely on Ken Dilger to block consistently and effectively on running plays, and that hampers their offense.

Dudley's poor blocking is not only holding back the offense a bit, it is having a ripple effect on special teams. When Martin Gramatica had his field goal blocked last week against Cleveland, Browns cornerback Anthony Henry shot around Dudley, who was the wingman on the left side of the formation. Dudley whiffed on the block and Henry got to the kick. Don't expect to see Dudley line up as a blocker on field goal and extra point teams in the future. Getting a new long snapper may not be the only change that is made on special teams.

Dudley has a receiver's mentality and wants to be a pass catching tight end and a touchdown producer. Some speculate that this type of attitude is what prompted Jon Gruden not to re-sign him after his contract was up in Oakland. Dudley may be jettisoned at some point later in the season if a better tight end prospect emerges on the waiver wire, but more likely is the chance that the Bucs will look elsewhere for a new tight end at the end of the season. Dudley needs to get open and produce in the passing game or he will be of no use to the Buccaneers.

FAB 3. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were wise to sign defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to a two-year contract extension on Friday night. Kiffin flat out deserves it. Kiffin has been the mastermind of Tampa Bay's defense over the years, but didn't always get the credit he was due because he was always in the shadow of head coach Tony Dungy.

The fiery, 62-year old Kiffin would have been a hot head coaching candidate next spring, and may still be, although some of the national media pundits I spoke with this week suggest that like Gunther Cunningham and Ray Rhodes, Kiffin is better off remaining just a great defensive coordinator. The fact that he is now one of the highest paid defensive coordinators with a salary that rivals what Washington's Marvin Lewis makes, which could be close to $1 million per season if certain incentives are met, may satisfy Kiffin to the point that he won't interview for any tempting head coaching positions that will open up next spring.

With a contract extension that runs through 2004, the cornerstone of the Bucs' defense is place. That's good news considering that Tampa Bay will likely lose defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to another team next spring. Head coach Jon Gruden promoted Marinelli by also making him the team's assistant head coach to prevent teams from interviewing him for a defensive coordinator role. But Gruden and the organization are going to have to allow Marinelli, who is widely considered to be the best in the business, the freedom to advance his career. That could happen this spring.

But Kiffin had to replace defensive backs coach Herman Edwards and linebackers coach Lovie Smith last year and found two incredible coaches in Mike Tomlin and Joe Barry. Expect Kiffin to do the same when Marinelli departs. Kiffin has a nose for defense, and as he's shown with Tomlin and Barry, a nose for defensive coaches, too.

With Gruden and most of their core players locked up for the near future, the Bucs organization was smart to do the same with Kiffin. And that will ensure that Tampa Bay will be a contender for years to come. Kiffin didn't invent the one-gap philosophy, the 4-3 alignment or the Cover 2 scheme, but he certainly has perfected all three elements in a defense that is tailor made for Tampa Bay's personnel.

FAB 4. There is no running back controversy in Tampa Bay, right? Well there might be a fullback controversy. Michael Pittman is the starting halfback and Mike Alstott is the Bucs' starting fullback. However, Alstott is not the team's best blocker. Jameel Cook is a superior blocker, and rookie Darian Barnes may be just as good a blocker as the A-Train is.

Alstott is at his best as a runner and receiver. In fact, if you were to rank his talents in order, they would be as a runner, a receiver and then a blocker. I know Alstott wants to be on the field as much as possible, but it is hurting Pittman's production by not having Cook lead block for him as he does for Alstott.

The remedy to this situation is to have Alstott and Pittman split carries and time at the tailback spot and have Cook be the full-time fullback. Cook isn't a threat to run the ball, but is an accomplished pass catcher out of the backfield. Besides, the Bucs rarely give a handoff to the fullback out of the I formation or the split backfield. Pewter Report managing editor Leo Haggerty will debate this topic even more in this week's Point/Counterpoint inside the Pewter Report publication.

But keep in mind there is no running back controversy. Since Alstott joined the Bucs in 1996, he has been a good soldier and never taken any of his gripes about splitting time with Warrick Dunn to the media. However, Dunn did whine and complain about not being the featured back, and that helped fuel the controversy.

Don't expect Pittman to be at odds with Alstott over splitting carries. Pittman, who was impressed with Alstott's effort against Cleveland, showered the A-Train with praise and stated that he's not a selfish player. Heck, this guy is just happy to be out of Arizona and on a team with a winning record.

"It was good to see Mike out there," Pittman said. "Mike did a great job. He wore them out and had a huge game. They were done. You could see the fatigue that took place out there. They were ready to give up. They were winded and breathing heavy. It's great to see them wilt. Mike's a big guy. They didn't want to tackle him. They were just bouncing off of him. Mike took advantage of that.

"Up close that was the first time I've seen him do his thing. I've always seen Mike on Monday Night Football. He showed me a lot of stuff for a big guy. He runs great, he has very good balance for his size and he's very strong. He made the most of his opportunity. Mike is probably the only fullback in the league that could do that and run the way he did. I told him after the game that I was proud of him. I was on the sidelines watching him and he got me pumped up."

End of the RB controversy. But is that the end of FB controversy?

FAB 5. And finally, a few parting shots:

- The key for the Buccaneers defense in containing quarterback Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles offense will be making key stops on first down -- not just third down. The Bucs lead the league in first down defense, holding opponents to just 3.71 yards on first downs, which is easily tops in the league. That forces opponents into second-and-long, and eventually into third-and-long situations.

- Look for the five-man defensive front to re-emerge in Philadelphia on Sunday. The Bucs unveiled it two weeks ago against Atlanta's scrambling quarterback, Michael Vick, for just one play, but it worked. On third-and-six near the Bucs' red zone, Vick faced the five-man front and was sacked by Ellis Wyms, who was the fifth D-lineman on that play lined up in between nose tackle Anthony McFarland and defensive end Simeon Rice. The Bucs might pull this trick out of their bag this week against Donovan McNabb. And don't be surprised to see a new twist on the front, either.

- The good news is that yours truly is right on the mark when it came to preseason predictions for the Buccaneers. In my Buccaneer Blitz column from Issue 8, I had the Bucs starting out 5-1 -- only with a win over New Orleans and a loss at Cincinnati (hey, I thought they would be better this year). The bad news is that I had forecasted a loss to Philadelphia in Week 7. But before you starting sending the hate mail, the good news is that I have the Bucs winning the next three games -- at Carolina and two home games against Minnesota and Carolina -- to start out 8-2. I asked a team official this week if I could hand them an 8-2 record on a platter would they take it, or simply play the next four games and see what happens? He said that he would like to see Tampa Bay win at Philly, but that any team wouldn't turn down three wins and one loss if handed to them. Don't be surprised to see the Bucs be 8-2 in a month from now.

- Here's an interesting fact for you. Only four current Buccaneers have ever donned the old orange and white Bucco Bruce uniforms. Strong safety John Lynch was a third-round draft pick in 1993 and wore the orange and white for four years. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks joined the Bucs in 1995 and wore the old uniforms for two years. Fullback Mike Alstott was a second-round draft pick in 1996 and only had to endure the creamsicle look for one year.

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/
This story is intended to be read only by Club Insiders only and 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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