The High Five: Senior Bowl edition

In this edition of the "High Five," I write about why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have no excuses for not winning in 2008, how the overseas game could affect the Bucs, the Monte Kiffin defensive coaching tree and how I see the Bucs' time in Mobile being spent in relation to the NFL Draft. It's all in this weekly premium feature.

1. The Bucs better win now

Both Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were awarded three-year contract extensions this week. I would have liked those extensions a bit shorter in length, but I've supported the idea of extending their deals since December, so that's really more about semantics.

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden has no excuses for success now. (AP photo)
As I listened to Allen talk about his new deal on Tuesday, I sensed genuine excitement. Then he said this:

"(I'm) excited," Allen said. "We're in good position. I've talked about the infrastructure of the Bucs, which makes you feel very positive for the future — the stadium, the facility, the fans — everything."

Then it hit me — these guys really have no more excuses.

When Allen first arrived, you could make plenty of excuses.

The Bucs didn't have enough draft choices because of trades for Gruden and Keyshawn Johnson. Therefore they could not replenish their aging roster.

The Bucs were so far over the salary cap that they not only couldn't attract free agents but also had to cut their own veterans to make room under the cap.

Their facility, well, stank (sometimes literally).

The Bucs may be short of draft choices this year ¬— they've traded three of their late choices. But at least they have anywhere from $25-30 million to work with to sign free agents. Plus, they have that glistening facility to use as bait.

I month ago I said that a one-year extension would send a message to both Gruden and Allen that the Glazers wanted to see consistency from the team before they chose to offer a longer contract. To me, it made sense after four years of up and down play by the Bucs.

A three-year extension sends a different message. To me it says, ‘You're our guys, Jon and Bruce. Now go get it done.'

The Buccaneers have everything in place now — the money, the coaches, the talent and the facility.

I'll say it first if no one else has. There are no excuses for this team to not have a winning record in 2008. None.

And if Gruden or Allen make excuses, the Glazers should show them the door.

2. London calling

I wrote a column a couple of months ago touting the Bucs' chances of playing this overseas game. Unfortunately, I can't find my archived story so you're going to have to take my word for it. Those are the hazards of writing, like, 50 stories a week.

But in that article I wrote that the Bucs going to England made sense. The Bucs have cultivated a following across the pond, for whatever reason. Plus the Glazer family owns Manchester United, which, like it or not, is the most popular sports franchise in the world.

Heck, Bruce Allen referred to the Bucs as MU's "little sister" this week.

When the announcement is made, I expect the Bucs and the Chiefs to be playing in this game, just as I predicted a couple of months ago. Why?

The Chiefs are already interested. That's documented. The Chiefs are set to host both the Bucs and the Saints this season. I doubt none of those teams want to play a divisional or conference game overseas (Seattle, another NFC team, is the fourth candidate). So that leaves the Chiefs against one of those three NFC teams.

For all the reasons listed above, I'll take the Bucs and Chiefs. And, thanks to the way the schedule is already set up, Tampa Bay should not have to give up a home game in the process, which was a source of contention among some fans on the message board.

If I'm wrong, well, I'm wrong. And it wouldn't be the first time. But I have a feeling about this.

3. A Senior Bowl wish list

This week was my first year at the Senior Bowl and I have nothing to compare it to. But the player access is great, as is the agent access. Coaching access is another story.

But I got a lot of information this week. And based on what I've heard and reported, I can put together a clear list of needs the Bucs appear interested in filling right now.

Cal WR Lavelle Hawkins isn't built like some of the other receivers, but he caught everything in sight during Senior Bowl practices. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)
First, they're talking to a lot of wide receivers and that's a good thing. They need an infusion of youth at the position. Michael Clayton has already fallen out of favor and I'm worried the same thing could be happening to the talented Maurice Stovall. Plus, he has an injury to rehab. Several of them have caught my eye, including Cal's Lavelle Hawkins, who's slight but catches everything in sight.

Next, they're definitely looking at defensive tackles. I don't think they're dissatisfied with Jovan Haye or Chris Hovan. But they know as well as anyone else that they were 17th against the run and they need some more beef inside. Arkansas DT Marcus Harrison, who talked with the Bucs, could help.

The Bucs may not be done drafting linebackers either. I get the feeling they're exploring the possibility of drafting a player that could eventually take over for Derrick Brooks. The Bucs have already interviewed Virginia Tech's Xavier Adibi and Kentucky's Wesley Woodyard, and I'll bet they'll have talked to USC's Keith Rivers by the end of the week. All of them can play on the weak side. Does this signal that maybe Cato June is not Brooks' heir? We'll see.

I think you're also going to see them look hard at players that can also return kicks and punts. One prime candidate is Troy's Leodis McKelvin, a corner that also did a great job returning kicks and punts for the Trojans. He had more all-purpose yards than any other Trojan last year — and he didn't play a lick of offense.

Those are just my thoughts. Let's see how things develop at the combine next month. I'll be there, too.

4. The Kiffin coaching tree

I was struck by a sight on Tuesday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

It was Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin sitting with Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Lions secondary coach Jimmy Lake and Lions head coach Rod Marinelli.

That's a whale of defensive coaching talent and they all worked under Kiffin at one time. And with rising coaching star Raheem Morris entering the final year of his deal as the Bucs' secondary coach, he could be moving on after next season to be a coordinator.

That's a good and a bad thing. It's good because Kiffin has mentored some great defensive coaching talent (and you have to include USC coach Pete Carroll in that club. They worked together in the 1980s at N.C. State when Kiffin was the head coach).

It's a bad thing because Kiffin may never leave. As long as he remains the defensive coordinator, he stands in the way of the advancement of any of his assistants. I'm not saying fire Kiffin or push him aside. All I'm saying is that the Bucs are losing a bevy of great defensive coaches partly due to Kiffin's overall excellence as a coach.

That's a small price to pay to keep the Tampa 2 architect around, I suppose.

5. My early first-round pick

I've had a couple of back and forths with our Chris Steuber, who handles our mock drafts and some of our player rankings at Scout.com. He asked me on Wednesday whom I thought the Bucs might take with their first-round pick.

I drew a complete blank.

Alabama wide receiver D.J. Hall wouldn't be a bad choice for the Buccaneers at No. 20. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
At this early stage of the player evaluation period, all we really know is who the Bucs are talking to. While I think that gives some indication of what they're looking for, you really can't break down true team needs until the Bucs have done their work in free agency. With anywhere from $23-30 million in cap money, the Bucs can address a lot of their weaknesses that way.

The Bucs could do so well in free agency that they could put themselves in a position to take the best player available, which isn't a bad position. It guarantees you'll get a talented player, no matter the need.

But if I had to pick today, based on what the Bucs have now, I'd take Alabama WR D.J. Hall. I listened to a Bears scout talk to another scout about Hall, telling his companion that he was going to lobby for Hall the second he got back.

Hall, 6-foor-2 and 189 pounds, was described by that scout as a "Torry Holt" type receiver.

Take a look at Holt's career numbers sometime. The Bucs could use a receiver that young, swift and steady on their roster. Hall had a great week in Mobile and impressed a lot of people.

If he were there, all things being equal, I'd take him.

But it's a long way until the draft. So let's see what develops.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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