SR's Fab Five

October 26 - This week's 2,200-word edition of SR's Fab Five analyzes the Bucs offense position-by-position and takes a look at how the 2003 draft could help each offensive unit. It's never too early to look ahead to the NFL Draft and PewterReport.com offers an inside look. We'll also offer some insight to this week's game against the Panthers in Carolina.

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. At Pewter Report, we pride ourselves on always staying one step ahead when observing and analyzing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To kick off this week's SR's Fab Five, we'll take a quick, early glimpse at the upcoming 2003 NFL Draft (the seniors, anyway) and let you know what the Bucs' positions of need will be.

It's becoming increasingly apparent that the Bucs' offensive line is holding back Jon Gruden's offense. The best, most consistent player on the offensive line, center Jeff Christy, will be turning 34 in February and is in the twilight of his career. The players manning the offensive tackle positions, which feature journeyman Roman Oben at left tackle and unpolished Kenyatta Walker at right tackle, are just average. At guard, Kerry Jenkins is an upgrade over Randall McDaniel at left guard, although he does not have Pro Bowl potential and had an awful game at Philadelphia. Cosey Coleman, a former second round draft pick, is the team's right guard, and has been disappointingly inconsistent this year, although a preseason knee injury may be keeping him from playing at full potential.

The depth along the offensive line is also just average. Cornell Green, who can play guard or right tackle, doesn't offer much upside, and isn't better than Walker.

Lomas Brown is an 18-year veteran who is considered an emergency tackle by the team. Despite period struggles at left and right tackle, Brown won't give the team a quick fix and will likely only be used as a "disaster player" if the Bucs suffer a season-ending injury. Newcomer

Tutan Reyes, a third-year player out of Mississippi, might be the most promising player in terms of developing him into a future, potential starter.

Todd Washington seems to have lost some effectiveness after losing close to 30 pounds to get to a playing weight of 300 as mandated by offensive line coach Bill Muir. Washington struggled mightily at left guard in the preseason and against the New Orleans Saints in the season opener while getting pushed around. Washington's knee wasn't 100 percent, but Eagles guard John Welbourne seemed to play just fine on one leg in manhandling Warren Sapp last week.

Fixing the offensive line must be the top priority in Gruden's mind during the offseason. Players such as Washington right tackle Jon Jansen will be available during free agency, but top-shelf offensive linemen are awfully expensive in free agency and don't always pan out. Jansen will likely command a base salary in excess of $4 million in 2003, and the Redskins would be foolish to let him go.

Three of the starting five offensive linemen -- Christy, Jenkins and Oben -- have come via free agency, while Walker and Coleman were high-round draft picks. The Bucs have tried both approaches, but just haven't hit on a consistent, cohesive, top-shelf unit.

A quick look at the senior offensive linemen who will be eligible for this year's draft shows a fair group of centers with one blue chipper (Wisconsin's Al Johnson), a weak group of guards with one blue chipper (Hawaii's Vince Manuwai), and a pretty solid group of offensive tackles, featuring six potential first-rounders -- Utah's Jordan Gross, Florida State's Brett Williams, Wisconsin's Ben Johnson, Georgia's George Foster, Tennessee's Will Ofenheusle, and Illinois' Tony Pashos. Under Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Muir, the Bucs will be looking for quick footed, agile 300-pounders instead of the maulers like 340-pounders Frank Middleton and Jerry Wunsch that Tony Dungy preferred.

With the Bucs currently having only six draft picks in rounds 2-7 thanks to Tampa Bay's trade for Gruden which cost them a first-round pick in 2003, expect at least two of the team's picks -- if not three -- to be used on the offensive line. All offensive linemen listed here are projected to be taken in rounds 2-6:

At tackle, keep an eye on Georgia's Jon Stinchcomb, Marshall's Steve Sciullo, Southern Mississippi's Jeremy Bridges, Clemson's Gary Byrd and Virginia Tech's Anthony Davis. At guard and center, look out for Texas' Derrick Dockery (despite his listed weight of 355 pounds), Iowa's Eric Steinbach and Bruce Nelson, Colorado's Wayne Lucier and Miami's Brett Romberg.

FAB 2. The Bucs will also head into the offseason needing to upgrade their team speed at wide receiver. Despite the presence of Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius and last year's third-round draft pick, Marquise Walker, the Bucs will likely go after a speed receiver in this year's draft.

Gruden and Johnson haven't always seen eye-to-eye, and with Johnson slated to make $3 million in base salary in addition to $2 million in a roster bonus, it would not be out of the question to expect the team to attempt to trade Johnson if he does not restructure his contract in the offseason, especially to give the Bucs' a first-round draft pick or more. With the Bucs needing to extend the contracts of middle linebacker Shelton Quarles in 2003 and with defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland coming up in 2004, salary cap room will be at a premium. Johnson is scheduled to hit the Bucs' cap for $6.87 million in 2003.

Walker, who was a disappointment in training camp with his lazy work ethic and lack of consistent playmaking ability may not be around this time next year if his practice habits don't improve. The team was hoping to draft Louisville's Deion Branch instead of Walker last spring. Despite having a 76-yard touchdown from Johnson and a 65-yard touchdown from McCardell this year, the Bucs want a faster player who is capable of hitting the home run on any given play. Branch, who is having a fabulous season for the New England Patriots, would have been that player.

Like 2002, there will be plenty of quality receivers available in this year's draft. Fresno State's Bernard Berrian is believed to be a favorite at One Buccaneer Place, but he might be a late first-round candidate. Utah State's Kevin Curtis is a burner with a physical style and good blocking ability is currently a second-rounder. He's older than the typical senior, but might be more mature. Georgia's Terrence Edwards, Arizona's Bobby Wade and Oregon's Keenan Howry are less than 6-feet tall, but have speed and playmaking ability.

Expect the Bucs to select at least one receiver in the 2003 draft.

FAB 3. Another position of interest on offense will be tight end where the team is happy with Ken Dilger, who can catch and block, but is becoming disappointed by the blocking abilities -- or lack thereof -- of newcomer Rickey Dudley. Dudley had just one catch -- an 18-yarder -- against Philadelphia, and only had one catch for 3 yards the previous week against Cleveland.

Gruden needs two solid tight ends for his two-tight end set to be most effective. The team probably won't give up on Dudley this year as there isn't much currently available on the free agent market. Tampa Bay views Todd Yoder only as a third tight end and a special teamer. Practice squad tight end Casey Crawford has great size and potential worth developing.

There is not a good crop of senior tight ends available this year. Only Florida's Aaron Walker, who the Bucs like, is considered a high draft pick. Walker may be selected as high as a mid-second-rounder. North Carolina's Zach Hilton may be the most complete tight end in the draft. Mississippi State's Donald Lee and Oklahoma's Trent Smith might be worth watching, too.

If the right tight end becomes available at the right time, the Bucs might pull the trigger. Otherwise, they may wait and see who is left after the draft and sign a young, developmental player as an undrafted free agent.

FAB 4. The Bucs seem content with their stable of running backs -- Michael Pittman, Aaron Stecker and Travis Stephens -- although Mike Alstott might be a salary cap casualty next season. Despite having a 126-yard game against Cleveland, he's still a situational ballcarrier in Gruden's offense and an expensive one at that. The Bucs like young fullbacks Jameel Cook and Darian Barnes and will want to further develop those players.

With that being said, the Bucs may not spend a draft pick on a running back, which might be smart considering its currently not a very deep nor talented group. But Gruden may draft a young quarterback to develop and compete with Joe Hamilton. Shaun King and Rob Johnson are both free agents after the year, and it might be safe to say that one might return if guaranteed a starting position heading into camp.

Where does that leave Brad Johnson? Johnson has played well this season and generally made good decisions with the football, but lacks the daring and mobility of Rich Gannon, who may be the ultimate QB for Gruden's version of the West Coast offense.

Louisville's Dave Ragone would be a great fit in Gruden's scheme, but currently Ragone is slated to be a first-rounder, although a sub-par year due to poor pass protection and the loss of receiver Deion Branch may push him into the second round. Two other college quarterbacks to monitor are Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury and Eastern Illinois' Tony Romo. Kingsbury plays like a smarter Rob Johnson.

FAB 5. And finally, a few parting shots:

- Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden was wise to wait until Thursday afternoon to indicate that Rob Johnson would be the starter against Carolina. This forced Panthers defensive coaches to breakdown film of both Rob and Brad Johnson this week and prepare their team to face either quarterback in Wednesday and Thursday's practices because of their contrasting playing styles. Gruden was also smart to prepare Shaun King to be the backup and move Brad Johnson to the role of emergency quarterback. Expect Rob Johnson to get a quick hook if his play heads south against a stingy Panthers defense. Gruden won't hesitate to turn the game over to King at any point during the contest.

- Bucs left tackle Roman Oben received a lot of help against Pro Bowl right end Hugh Douglas last week against Philadelphia. Tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley helped chip Douglas, as did receiver Joe Jurevicius and running back Michael Pittman. But with Carolina boasting two dangerous pass rushing ends in Michael Rucker and rookie Julius Peppers, the Bucs won't be able to defend those ends by doubling both players on every down. Oben might have to play more one-on-one downs with Rucker so that right tackle Kenyatta Walker can get the extra help against Peppers as Rob Johnson will spend a lot of time rolling to his right towards Peppers and away from Rucker. Expect the Bucs to take a long, hard look at how Oben handles Rucker this Sunday and after the bye week when the Bucs play the Panthers again in determining whether to re-sign the left tackle after this season.

- Pewter Report has talked to a couple of players who are getting fed up with Michael Pittman's running style -- not to mention his two fumbles against Philadelphia (both recovered by the Bucs). It's no surprise that Aaron Stecker will see more carries this week against Carolina, as head coach Jon Gruden suggested as much during his day-after-game press conference on Monday. But don't be surprised if Stecker, who has fresher legs and a quicker, slashing running style, becomes the Bucs feature back after a strong game against Carolina.

- Expect Carolina to try to ram the ball down the Bucs' throat this week to safeguard the inexperienced rookie quarterback, Randy Fasani. Look for running back Lamar Smith to get in the neighborhood of 35 carries if the game stays close into the fourth quarter. It's important for Tampa Bay to get some early touchdowns on the board to take away Carolina's ability to pound the ball and wear down the Bucs' undersized defensive line and linebackers as Philadelphia was able to do in the fourth quarter last week. With an early double-digit lead, the Bucs defense can start collecting sacks and interceptions en route to victory.


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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