Can Blake make it as a Buccaneer?

With the news that former all-America DE Tommy Blake has a tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week, Bucsblitz.com set out to analyze the move and determine what Blake must do — and what other factors could conspire for or against him — to allow Blake to make it to training camp and beyond. Get expert analysis right here.

Bucsblitz.com included Texas Christian University DE Tommy Blake in its final mock draft for one simple reason. When Blake is on, he's one of the most talented ends in college football.

We also related that Blake could fall out of the draft for one simple reason. He has more baggage than just about any potential draft prospect in the land.

So the news that Blake will try out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week — and could make it to their rookie camp — could be seen as just another reclamation project for the Buccaneers.

But given Blake's supreme talent, shouldn't they take the chance on a workout? Absolutely.

Blake — who is now listed at 278 pounds — was a dynamo at TCU until last season. Before that Blake was an All-American defensive end that many scouts considered a first-round pick until he had unexplained absences from the team and had a lackluster 2007 season.

Blake became overweight, as he weighed in at 281 pounds at the scouting combine, which was better than the eight more pounds he carried into the East-West Shrine Game, but still well above the playing weight that made him a potential first-round pick. The reason?

No, Blake isn't lazy, dealing with the law or a problem child. He's dealing with real-life issues like clinical depression and social anxiety disorder. That's what derailed his senior year, a fact many didn't know until the scouting process began in the offseason.

Blake is still fast. He proved that at his pro day when he ran a 4.75, which is close to the times players like Virginia's Chris Long put up at the combine.

Most scouts agreed after his pro day last month that Blake still had talent. If they needed reminding, take a look at his pre-2007 statistics. In 2006 he led the team with seven sacks for minus-50 yards and 16.5 stops for loss on what was one of the best defenses in the nation.

Or go to youtube.com and type in Tommy Blake. Find the highlight from the UNLV game and you'll see Blake miss a ball carrier at the line of scrimmage and then run 30 yards downfield — even past his own teammates — to run the Rebel down.

Yes, he has talent. But he also has issues and players like Alonzo Spellman and Dimitrius Underwood — both undeniably talented — also suffered the same mental issues as Blake and collapsed under the weight.

So, the first issue is can Blake make it to rookie camp this weekend. I think he will. He appears to have done enough career rehab during the offseason to warrant a look at rookie camp. He's closer to his playing weight and beginning to show the explosiveness that he had at TCU.

Then Blake has to prove that he deserves an invitation beyond the weekend, and that's more difficult. The Bucs usually bring in about 40-50 players for the rookie camp each year and, aside from the draft picks, the Bucs don't usually keep many of the undrafted rookie free agents.

Blake must not only show he has his explosiveness back, but that he can do it against opposing offensive players and withstand three days in the intense (for May) Florida heat. It's plenty hot in Texas in the summer, so I don't believe fatigue will be much of an issue. Plus, he's facing offensive linemen that he used to dominate at the college level. So, it wouldn't surprise me to see Blake impress the Bucs enough to keep him around for a few more weeks once the veterans return for OTAs.

That will be the big test for Blake. First, he'll be far from home and his support system in Texas. Most rookies live in hotel rooms for the first months in Tampa before training camp. The rookies bond, but they're still on their own and solitude isn't always one's best friend.

Next, Blake will be working against veterans like Luke Petitgout, Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood. His job of proving to the Bucs that he has the goods to earn a training camp invitation will get a lot harder. Blake is capable of holding his own, but will he?

Third, he'll have to prove he can master the technical aspects of the position. Some scouts, even before his mental illness, believed that Blake was getting by on sheer talent and not technical knowledge. Bucs line coach Larry Coyer isn't one to skimp on the technical aspects of the position. If Blake is struggling, Coyer will work with him. But he'll also be honest with his head coach when evaluating Blake.

Finally, there's the sheer numbers game. The Bucs can only take 80 players to training camp, which is down from the past because there are no more NFL Europe exemptions. Head coach Jon Gruden said earlier this week that it would lead to some tough decisions come July.

Take a look at Tampa Bay's roster right now and you'll find eight players that are either pure defensive ends or tackles that can play end — Gaines Adams, Charles Bennett, Kevin Carter, Patrick Chukwurah, Marques Douglas, Marquies Gunn, Greg White and Jimmy Wilkerson. Now add Blake and you get nine.

Now consider that the Bucs have 85 players on their roster right now (that includes their draft picks). So if the Bucs don't add another player to their roster they must still cut five more players by the time they arrive in Orlando. The Buccaneers carried eight ends into their first preseason game against New England last year, so it's possible the Bucs might like Blake enough to keep him. But also consider that 88 players were active for the game and the odds become much clearer.

Blake must beat out six players currently with a contract to make it to camp. We're talking about guys like Darrell Hunter, Cortez Hankton and Jimmy Spiller. That's possible. His big competition at his position will be guys like Gunn and Bennett.

Working in Blake's favor is the fact that the Bucs want to improve their pass rush this season after registering 32 sacks a year ago. The Bucs signed Douglas and Wilkerson to that effect. There's the thought that a Blake who is in shape and has his personal thing together could be the equivalent of hitting a home run after the draft.

To this untrained eye, the odds are long for Blake, but not insurmountable. There is enough fat on this roster to trim to make room for Blake. But he must shine during his tryout and this weekend at rookie mini-camp to even have a shot at going to Orlando. He must also control his mental illnesses, which can be aggravated by stress.

And there are few things more stressful that trying to earn a NFL job. Blake can do it. But he has to give the Bucs a reason to believe this weekend.


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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