Where I've been...

In case anyone still stops by this site I should probably mention that I've now more or less moved over to the Sticks of Fire website. I've been writing for the Sticks for some time now but expect me to write there more often, mostly because the Sticks gives me the opportunity to cover sports other than the NFL. That's not to say I am abandoning this site, come the fall you will still be able to find rants and musings on this site. But if you want to continue reading about the Bucs, in addition to the Rays, Bolts, Gators, Bulls, etc. then head on over to the Sticks.

Of course, if you're looking for daily Bucs commentary (snark included) then I recommend visiting BucStats.com. Even if Scott is the bastard child of Phil Hellmuth and Sammy Farha.


I am the absentee slumlord of this site

My apologies for my absence over the past two months but applying to grad school/work responsibilities have kept me occupied. There is simply not enough time in the day to devote to this crumbling, roach infested excuse for a blog.

Let's get to the most important news first, for the first time in a long time I liked the Bucs draft. As I mentioned at the Sticks, this was a more risk filled draft compared to last year. Last year's draft (and to a lesser degree previous drafts) featured more "safe" picks, i.e. guys who will be starters but not all-stars in the league. Which was mirrored in this year's Bucs team which was solid but lacked playmaking ability. I mentioned this multiple times last season but the Bucs offense was ranked the 10th most efficient by Football Outsiders but ranked only 18th when it came to scoring points (in the same company as the offensively inept Bears). The Bucs offensive weakness was exposed towards the end of the season when defense realized that to shut down the Bucs offense all you had to do was double team Galloway.

Now at this point the astute observer might argue, "Ski, the Bucs didn't draft any playmaking skill players on the offense this year," and those observations would be dead on accurate. I think the Bucs made a huge mistake passing on Limas Sweed in the second round and Mario Manningham in the third. That being written Dexter Jackson could develop into the guy who makes those 2 or 3 big plays a game the Bucs are looking for. I expect Jackson to be mostly used as a kick returner, a position which he could excel at as he was the fastest player timed at this year's combine. If Jackson can make the same impact on the team that Devin Harris has for the Bears or MJD has for the Jags then he was well worth a late second round pick. Jackson's value to this team is as a kick returner and it's just icing on the cake if he makes one or two deep catches a game this season as the 3rd receiver.

Moving on I liked the Aqib Talib over Mike Jenkins pick, even if it led all the Bulls fans to rise up in anger and promise they will never attend another Bucs game. Talib is rated the better prospect by most scouts, and has the ambiguous label of play-maker attached to him, which is best defined using the words of Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it." A number of scouts considered Talib as top ten prospect talent-wise but he dropped due to concerns about his character. From what I understand the Bucs talked to a number of Talib's coaches and teammates at Kansas and they all had glowing things to say about the cornerback.

Looking around the intertubes at other Bucs blogs, the reaction to the Bucs draft is more subdued. Buccaneer Harbour finds the draft average and compares it to last year (on that point we could not disagree more) and BucStats response to the draft is "meh." Which I believe is the same sound a dying giraffe makes. Even though I respect both of these guys opinion's they could not be more wrong if they had advised Miley Cyrus to do that photo shoot. Buc 'Em continues to offer zero analysis which I believe is a mistake since all that separates his site from Buccaneers.com is the word "official" and some pictures of cheerleaders. UPDATE: Since writing this Buc 'Em has added draft analysis which runs with a similar opinion to my own. Draw conclusions on your own.

On a somewhat interesting sidenote Mel Kiper Jr.s' draft grade for the Bucs was a "B" which might be noteworthy if the guys at Fire Joe Morgan had not revealed that Kiper's draft grades carry about as much insight as a Brittney Spears Guide to Parenting. (That's two pop culture references in one post, an all time high for me. I'm the PerezHilton of Bucs blogs.) Apparently the only grades Kiper had given over the last 3 years are either a "C" or "B" with the exception of an "A" for Kansas City this year. That's some weak sauce from Kiper there.

On a related note, if you are at all interested in sports blogging as a whole it's worth your time to catch the piece on Costos Now on HBO featuring one of the guys from FJM (who also writes for the Office as well, take that blogger-living-in-his-mothers-basement stereotypes!) and Will Leitch from Deadspin. The piece began with a recored look at sports blogs which was balanced but was then followed by a live panel discussion featuring Leith, Buzz Bissinger and Braylon Edwards(?). FJM captures the essence of the panel pretty well but for those who haven't seen it Leitch was unfairly attacked as a representative of blogs. What everyone on the panel with the obvious exception of Leitch failed to grasp was that, as FJM best put it,
The argument I had tried to make in the pre-taped segment was: you can't say anything about "blogs," any more than you can say anything about any medium. There are good blogs and bad blogs. There are blogs that cover the personal lives of athletes, ones that cover only the games, ones that offer opinions, and even a few that quixotically and foolishly attempt to metacriticize the media as a whole.
For better or worse I don't imagine this is a conflict which will get any better anytime soon as sports columnists for newspapers continue to misunderstand and feel threatened by a new medium.

Anyway, with the draft having passed expect me to post more often over at the Sticks with the free time I hope to find more of over the summer. Or then again maybe I'll leave all you to rot in this rat infested blog while I'm busy with other nefarious matters like tying that maiden to the train tracks.



This All Feels So Familiar

Since I was one of the few (if not the only person) who was opposed to the Bucs cutting ties with Brian Griese in the first place, I guess it's only fitting that I defend the trade to bring Griese back as well. And for the record I feel some what vindicated in my original argument. So, here's my latest argument in support of Griese....

1. Depth - Gruden's strategy at this point is clearly to bring in as many arms into training camp and see who emerges as the second stringer. Jeff Garcia is clearly the starter but no one behind Garcia on the depth chart is lighting the world on fire. Luke McCown could eventually be decent but he may have hit his ceiling. I'm still trying to figure out why Bruce Gradkowski is on the roster (I have a theory involving pictures of Gruden and a donkey). And Chris Simms is still looking for his spleen.

2. Cost - I'm assuming the Bucs traded at most a sixth or seventh round draft pick for Griese, which is nothing for a decent quarterback with playing experience. Personally, I think sixth and seventh rounder draft picks are worthless (although there are always exceptions such as Tom Brady and Marques Colston).

3. Familiarity - Perhaps this explains why so many Bucs fans have contempt for Griese. If nothing else, as TK pointed out, he knows the system. And Gruden knows what he's getting with Griese, a quarterback who just a few years ago looked like the Bucs future quarterback.

On the other hand, there's a perfectly legitimate reason to despise Griese, namely that he is a poor man's Trent Dilfer. For a guy known as a game manager Griese has a high interception percentage (4.6%), the second highest among starters with five or more starts. (By the way, I love the new Pro Football Reference site which along with the Football Outsiders site makes it incredibly easy to compare player's stats.)

Another quick note in defense of the Bucs, they have had a lackluster free agency so far, especially for a team $44 under the salary cap. But with the exception of Randy Moss (whom the Bucs never had a shot at anyway) there weren't any outstanding free agents this year. And with the limited number of free agents available teams ended up over paying for free agents at the in-demand positions, namely receiver and corner. As it is the Bucs grossly over paid for a center.


Catching Up

- First off, my apologies for my infrequent posting. Life and the real world has kept this already sporadic blogger from writing as frequently as I would like. I've mentioned this a few times but you can also find me writing at the Sticks with two recent posts on college basketball in Florida and Rays blogs going into spring training.

- The Bucs have made their first big splash of the offseason, signing Jeff Faine to the biggest contract ever for a center. The Bucs certainly had a need at center and were $44 M under the cap, but they still overspent on Faine. As the Tribune article points out Scouts.com didn't even have Faine rated as the top free agent center much less the best center in the league. What kind of precedent does this set when the other young lineman (Davin Jospeh, Jeremy Trueblood and Aaron Sears) become free agents? The Bucs can not afford to overpay everyone on the o-line.

That being written Faine certainly upgrades the center position. I have to admit even though Faine played the last few seasons with the Saints I knew nothing about him. Buccaneer Harbour says Faine is a much better pass blocker and slightly better run blocker than former Bucs center John Wade, and unless I see different I'm inclined to believe that.

One final thought on the Faine signing, what does this mean for Dan Buenning? He had an excellent rookie season playing at left guard but injuries and Aaron Sears have forced him to switch positions. It was originally believed that Buenning would be moved to center but it now looks like he will become the team's backup/utility interior lineman. Buenning makes a little over $500,000 for the next two seasons before becoming a free agent in 2010.

- With the center position covered the Bucs are now looking to pickup a receiver in free agency. According to the Times Bucs Beat the Bucs have stayed away from the bigger names at receiver, which makes sense with the big money being thrown at Jerry Porter ($30 M) and Bernard Berrian. Randy Moss is off the table as he will likely command the most money ever paid to a receiver. That leaves the Bucs with DJ Hackett and Devery Henderson, or possibly Donte Stallworth.

Hackett and Henderson have both been unimpressive and neither is the answer for the Bucs at reciever. Hackett appears to be a more hyped version of Michael Clayton and Henderson was sporadic as best last season with the Saints. Stallworth would be a valuable addition to the team, but he doesn't fit the Gruden model of a tall, physical receiver and there are no indications the Bucs are interested in him. The Times Bucs Beat seems to believe the Bucs will target a receiver in the first round, and I'm inclined to believe that as well.

- This falls under the obligatory mention of the draft but I feel very strongly that the Bucs will draft one of four players in the first round: Limas Sweed, Mario Manningham, Malcolm Kelly or DeSean Jackson. All four are considered the top four receivers in the draft although everyone has them ranked differently. At least two of the players will be available when the Bucs draft at #20.

UPDATE [3:44] - The last two days show the value of blogs as the Bucs blogs of the two major newspapers in Tampa Bay have broken most of the news about free agent signing and visits. I've already mentioned the Times Bucs Beat, but the Tribune's Bucs Report has been active the last two days as well. Also, the Pewter Report has a good roundup of activity by essentially turning their message board into a moderators-write only blog. BucStats also has a free agency tracker with a more detailed roundup.

Tightend Ben Troupe is visiting One Buc Place today and I hope the Bucs are able to sign him to a contract. Maybe I'm being swayed by my love of the Gators but I always thought Troupe had the ability to be a productive tightend in the NFL. He is in the mold of Alex Smith, i.e. is more of a pass catching tightend. His production has slipped the last few seasons but I like to think that is more a result of playing with Vince Young than a measure of his abilities.


The Meat Market Is Open

- The NFL's Annual Meat Market and best example of the dangers of group think kicks off this weekend. Few events are more overrated than the NFL Combine, where NFL scouts throw all logic out the window and fall in love with the guy with the best 40 time. It's the time when analysts preface their statements with "of course college games are the most important factor" but then do the exact opposite and rank players based on their combine results. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network ranking's going into the combine partially reflect this backwards logic (although critics could argue I'm putting the cart before the horse here).

Mike Mayock is the latest hotness in NFL Draft "experts" and in his rankings not only does he have Sedric Ellis ranked ahead of Glenn Dorsey but he has Rashard Mendenhall ranked over Darren McFadden. Never mind that at the end of the season both Dorsey and McFadden were widely considered possible number one overall picks. If I'm a scout or NFL GM I'm taking into account both Dorsey's and McFadden's better and more consistent track records, not only are both players considered two of the best collegiate players right now, they were considered two of the best players at the beginning of the season. The problem with NFL scouting is the same problem with the media's coverage of the Presidential race, everyone falls in love with the latest hotness, aka contestant/player. For example, the media fell in love with Fred Thompson when he first entered the race but we all know how that ended. The same can be said of Barack Obama who the media has treated with kid gloves. The NFL Draft analysts are guilty of the same failing, falling in love with the latest hotness which in this case would be Ellis and Mendenhall. I could very easily turn this into a diatribe on the obvious media bias despite supposed journalistic integrity but I will avoid the Rush Limbaugh go to move.

Also, as long as I'm throwing stones at the NFL Combine it's worth mentioning that a cottage industry has sprung up in the last few years centered on training players for the Combine. As this Sun-Sentinel article explains, there are a variety of camps that train prospects how to excel at the Combine. (By the way, that's just one of dozens of articles which popped up when I googled "nfl combine cottage industry.") The argument can be made that very little advantage is maintained if everyone has the same training but much like the SAT prep courses which train people how to take the test but fail to actually measure their intelligence, the end result of the NFL Combine is that prospects are tested on their ability to run through hoops and around cones instead of measuring their ability to play football.

- As BucStats has pointed out the Falcons finally had some luck and won a coin flip giving them the third overall pick. The buzz is that the Dirty Birds would pick Matt Ryan, the underwhelming quarterback out of Boston College. I'm assuming the thinking behind this is that Atlanta needs the "franchise quarterback" and Ryan is considered the top quarterback in the draft. I'm really hoping Atlanta falls for this fallacy and drafts Ryan, a player who has consistently failed to impress me when I watched him play (and since I'm in ACC country I've watched a few of his games). Without going into the detailed argument against taking a quarterback in the first round there is more value in players like McFadden and Dorsey. There are typically only a half dozen or so guys that are not only great athletes but also great college players. (Last year those players would have been Calvin Johnson, JaMarcus Russell, Joe Thomas, Gaines Adams, LaRon Landry, and Adrian Peterson. With the exception of Russell all these guys will eventually be multiple Pro Bowlers barring injury and/or pulling a Pacman Jones.)

Since the new Atlanta GM is a former Patriots guy (although I may be wrong about that) I'm inclined to think the Falcons will NOT draft Ryan. The Pats draft strategy has been to ignore the hype and draft value players who fit the franchise. This is also where it would be convenient to spout some crap about drafting Tom Brady in the 6th round. As a Bucs fan my biggest concern is that the Falcons make the "smart" move and draft an offensive lineman (Jake Long) or a defensive lineman (Ellis, Dorsey, or Chris Long) as lineman typically make the most immediate impact on a team.

- A quick note on the Bucs and the NFL Draft as we begin the marathon to the NFL Draft in April. Gruden and Company have typically kept the players they like close to their vest and refuse to release any information to the media. As far as I know the Bucs refuse to even take phone calls from reporters during this period although I'm basing that on heresay and may be wrong. The exception to that is when Gruden clearly goes ga-ga for a player as he did for Calvin Johnson last year. One great press conference from last year comes to mind where Gruden went out of his way to praise all the top players not named Calvin Johnson but never mentioned the Tech receiver except for some very light praise. I did the same thing in middle school when I really liked one girl I would ignore her and talk to all her friends. Needless to say that strategy only made my crush all the more obvious and failed to work.

Anyway, my childhood embarrassment aside looking at Gruden's previous drafts one of the obvious trends is that Gruden loves him some receivers as well as offensive lineman. And since the Bucs are fairly full at the offensive lineman position it makes sense to predict Gruden will draft a receiver, considering the lack of depth at the position. Although Gruden's previous success or lack thereof in drafting receivers is a concern, Marquise Walker and Michael Clayton have been busts and Maurice Stovall is heading in that direction.


Charging at Windmills (Why Alge Crumpler Should Not Be a Buc)

In what can only be described as an effort to remain the NFC South's doormat, the Falcons have released about half their decent players including Alge Crumpler. For reasons that are beyond me some have advocated signing Crumpler, despite the fact that he is an average tightend. What's even more amazing is that same person has demanded the Bucs offer Crumpler a $4.5 M contract, even when the widely acknowledged best tightend in the league (Antonio Gates) makes $3 M a year. So let's break down why this is a phenomenally bad idea.

First off the Bucs have a pretty good tightend in Alex Smith. I will admit some bias here as I've been a big fan of Smith since his first game when he caught two touchdowns. Smith is the new age prototypical tightend, a big man with speed and good hands, i.e. a tightend who is more receiver than blocker. Which is exactly what Alge is as well. Let's take a closer look at the stats (I know, a novel idea to say the least)...

The Football Outsiders have Alex Smith rated one spot ahead of Crumpler, which means the two players are about even. Both have a catch percentage of 60% and roughly equal value per play. So Crumpler is essentially Alex Smith part deux, or vice versa depending on how you look at it, i.e. they are almost exactly the same players. Now Alex Smith will make $460,000 next season and is under contract for the next two seasons. So explain why it makes sense to sign an identical player to Alex Smith for ten times more money? Of course, if Crumpler could be signed for the veteran's minimum I would sing a different tune.


I am starting to feel better and better about the possibility of the Bucs drafting Mario Manningham in the first round. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has him listed as the top receiver in this year's draft. And in Don Banks latest mock draft he has the Bucs drafting the Michigan receiver. Now at this point the draft is all speculation, at least until we get past the combine. But it appears most draftniks are running with the idea that the Bucs need a receiver or an offensive tackle in the first round.


Brian Kelly Doesn't Like Money

Brian Kelly has made the odd decision to buyout the last year of his $3.2 million contract and test the free agency waters. Considering Kelly is 32 and has missed 20 games over the past two years because of injury I doubt he will get the big payday he hopes for. Kelly's best chance is to go for a multi-year contract with a decent signing bonus.

While this appears to be the perfect chance to resign Kelly at a lower price, Kelly's squabbles with Bruce Allen. Last offseason Kelly skipped voluntary workouts because Allen refused to negotiate a new deal. Seeing as how this came right after Allen negotiated a new deal with Ronde Barber you can see how Kelly would be miffed.

For next season the Bucs should be in good shape with Phillip Buchanon starting in Kelly's place, which worked pretty well for the Bucs last season. Although the Bucs should consider drafting a corner to eventually replace Barber, and in that vein Buc'Em has a list of the corners in the draft.