By going to the Bucs with the 11th overall pick in Thursday's draft, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves became the highest Gators football player ever drafted by Tampa Bay. The in-state pipeline goes way back -- the Bucs' second-ever draft pick as Florida running back Jimmy Dubose in 1976.
In all, 10 Gators have been drafted by the Bucs -- the only schools to generate more Tampa Bay draft picks are Alabama (13), Miami (12), Tennessee (12) and FSU (11), with USC and Nebraska each getting 10 as well.
It's too early to know how Hargreaves' Bucs career will rank among the 10 Gators who have been drafted by the Bucs, but here are the other nine, starting with the most modest career and building up to the biggest.
9. Robert Morgan, FB, 10th round, 1977: Never played a down for the Bucs -- today's drafts only have seven rounds. He played three years at Florida, with 731 career rushing yards and three touchdowns.
8. Ahmad Black, S, 5th round, 2011: Black played parts of three NFL seasons, finishing with 41 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble, with three career starts. …Full Story
With cornerback Vernon Hargreaves addressing one defensive need for the Bucs in the first round Thursday, the draft's depth of talent on the defensive line could serve Tampa Bay well, with many top ends and tackles likely available when they pick again at No. 39.
The undrafted options after Thursday's 31 picks include a lot of names projected as potential first-rounders -- should the Bucs go with defensive end, they still have Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence, both once considered as options for Tampa Bay at No. 9. Clemson's Kevin Dodd is also still available, as is Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun. After the Bucs picked at 11, only one defensive end -- Clemson's Shaq Lawson -- went in the next 20 picks.
Should the Bucs want to draft a defensive tackle and upgrade their interior, the remaining options are arguably even stronger -- Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson, Mississippi State's Chris Jones, Alabama's Jarran Reed, Florida's Jonathan Bullard and Baylor's Andrew Billings. …Full Story
The first time Hargreaves slipped on an NFL jersey was at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago Thursday night. He was dressing for a homecoming game.
Hargreaves, the Florida Gators ball-hawking cornerback who played at Wharton High School, was selected No. 11 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay traded down two spots with Chicago, picked up a fourth-round pick and still got their cornerback.
Considered perhaps the best pure cornerback in the draft, Hargreaves provides the Bucs with help in a secondary that was a sieve last season. Opposing quarterbacks completed 70 percent of their passes and threw 31 touchdown passes in 2015.
Hargreaves actually grew up in Miami before starting high school in North Carolina. But when his dad, Vernon, Jr., took a job as the defensive ends and special teams coordinator for South Florida in 2010, Hargreaves started calling Tampa Bay home.
Almost from the start of the off-season, the Bucs and Hargreaves seemed to be running towards each other’s arms.
Hargreaves had cleats custom-made for the NFL scouting combine in Feb. with ‘Tampa,’ written on the side. …Full Story
ZACK WITTMAN | Times
Dirk Koetter has been much more involved in the draft process than he was as a coordinator.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has a rare football doubleheader Thursday, with the final practice of voluntary minicamp this morning, then the small matter of the NFL draft starting tonight.
"We've been working so much on the draft -- the players don't have anything to do with it, but for the coaches, all of our draft work was done before today," Koetter said. "I guess it gives you something to keep your mind occupied going into the draft."
Koetter has been much more involved in the draft process than he was as a coordinator -- watching tape on a hundred defensive prospects was a first -- but he's excited to see what general manager Jason Licht can do with the next three days.
"I'm Jason Licht's biggest fan tonight," Koetter said. "I'm rooting for Jason hard. We're going to add some really good players to our team. We need it and we're excited to find out who it is."
EVANS FINE: Receiver Mike Evans, who had left Wednesday's practice with heat-related issues, was a spectator at Thursday's practice, but Koetter said it wasn't anything serious and more related to the Bucs having an early minicamp after two weeks of conditioning. …Full Story
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Mike Smith has never hooked up with defensive talent as he might be tonight, whether it's a corner or defensive lineman.
I totally forgot to sneak this in with our draft notes in today's paper, but remembered I did some research earlier this week -- if the Bucs do in fact choose a defensive player at No. 9 tonight, it would be the highest a defensive player has ever gone in defensive coordinator Mike Smith's 17 drafts as an NFL head coach and assistant.
To find a defensive player he's landed higher than 19th overall, you have to go back to his very first year as an NFL assistant in 1999, when the Ravens took corner Chris McAlister at No. 10. Since then, the teams he's coached for have had top-nine picks six times, and all six times, they've drafted on offense -- quite well in Atlanta, mind you, with Matt Ryan (3) and Julio Jones (6) in Atlanta (along with Jake Matthews at 6 in 2014). Less so earlier on in his career, with Baltimore taking Jamal Lewis at 5 in 2000, and the Jaguars taking Byron Leftwich at 7 in 2003 and Reggie Williams (!) at 9 in 2004.
So Mike Smith has never hooked up with defensive talent as he might be tonight, whether it's a corner or defensive lineman. …Full Story
Here we are, within 24 hours of the start of the 2016 NFL draft. The Bucs pick at No. 9 -- should work out to about 9:30 or so on Thursday, but until then, how about some light reading?
We've been rolling out our position previews for the past week, and they're all here for your last-minute studying. Each reminds you what the Bucs have at the position, what they did in free agency, the top five prospects in the draft, a small-school player to watch and what the Bucs' best bet is in addressing the position in the draft.
Here are your links -- previewing the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers/tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs.
Draft nuggets, perhaps? We wonder just how many Ohio State players will go in the first round -- could 2004 Miami's record of six be matched? Two prospects Jameis Winston is pulling for are Michigan State's Connor Cook and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence.
And here's my mock draft as well, and Rick Stroud's draft preview story from Thursday's paper ...Full Story
Johnthan Banks went from being a second-round pick as the Thorpe Award winner at Mississippi State and leading the team in interceptions in his second season to a bench warmer on the worst secondary in the National Football League.
Last season, he suffered a knee problem and eventually lost his job through demotion or injury to Tim Jennings, Mike Jenkins and finally Jude Adjei-Barimah.
"Man, it’s been tough. It’s my fourth year and I’ve had three different head coaches," Banks said. "But I mean, that’s life. It happens. You’ve got to adapt. You’ve got to live and learn. I’m looking forward to learning this defense. (Defensive backs coach Brett) Maxie, knows what he wants, and coach (Jon) Hoke, knows what techniques they want. Just trying to get them honed down and go out there and play 100 percent full speed."
Banks has had a new defensive scheme to learn year every dating back to high school.
"That’s crazy. All through college I had four defensive coordinators and here, in the pros, it’s going to be my fourth defensive coordinator," Banks said. "I mean, it’s life. I’m enjoying it. I thank God for the opportunity." …Full Story
DIRK SHADD | Times
As he prepares for the upcoming season, George Johnson is now fighting for a roster spot, even more so if the Bucs take a defensive end high in this weekend's draft.
A year ago, the Bucs traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Lions to land defensive end George Johnson, who got a three-year, $7-million contract and then lost his starting job and failed to get a single sack.
As he prepares for the upcoming season, Johnson is now fighting for a roster spot, even more so if the Bucs take a defensive end high in this weekend's draft. He said a new defensive coordinator and scheme should help him get back to the form he had with six sacks in 2014, and he understands he needs to improve on his production last season.
"I really have to come out and make this my revenge season, start being what they brought me here to be," Johnson said Wednesday after a walkthrough practice. "To tell you the truth, if I don't do what I was supposed to come here to do, I don't see anything I did well. ... I'm starting all over, breaking myself down, seeing what I did wrong and fixing the problem areas."
Johnson likes the new combination of defensive coordinator Mike Smith and defensive line coach Jay Hayes, and said he likes a more aggressive, attacking philosophy from what Lovie Smith's defense called for last season. …Full Story
"I'm anxious to see who's going to pick him up,'' Jameis Winston says of Michigan State QB Connor Cook, pictured. "He's definitely a guy I would have thought would be ranked higher than he is now."
A year ago, Jameis Winston was preparing to be the No. 1 overall pick with the Bucs, and as another NFL draft looms Thursday night, Winston mentioned two players beyond his old FSU teammates that he's spent time with and pulling for in the draft.
"I worked with (Michigan State's) Connor Cook, out there with (QB guru) George Whitfield," Winston said after a walkthrough practice Wednesday morning. "I'm anxious to see who's going to pick him up. He's definitely a guy I would have thought would be ranked higher than he is now."
Another prospect who's visited the Bucs during the draft process is former Ohio State and Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, who Winston played with in an all-star showcase game four years ago.
"I'm very good friends with Noah Spence," Winston said of the potential first-round pick who could fall to the Bucs at No. 39 in the second round. "He played in the Under Armour All-America game coming out of high school. When he came in town (for a top-30 predraft visit), he said he was talking to the coaches and stuff. I was happy for him." …Full Story
I read and link to a ton of mock drafts each spring, and the challenge for me is finding a balance between the general consensus and having a distinctive mock that shows some creativity without really getting out there.
Even if you're somehow well-informed on teams' preferences at the top of a draft, that information is far more likely to be misdirection than actual functional, useful insights. You can put stock in where team's invest their most valuable evaluations -- top-30 visits to their facilities, private workouts with assistant coaches on a prospect's campus -- but even those can end up being meaningless.
What ends up complicating most mock drafts is their required simplicity -- we've already had two huge trades to radically shift the top of the draft, and I'm supremely confident (more so than in predicting the Bucs' pick, for instance) that there will be more trades into and out of the top 10, any one of which can really mess a mock draft up. How do you even measure mock-draft accuracy? I correctly paired the Chargers and Melvin Gordon last year, but did so at 17, not at 15, where San Diego traded up to get him. Does that count? …Full Story
In between making second- and third-round draft picks on Friday night at One Buc Place, if the Bucs listen close, they might hear Beyonce playing to a packed Raymond James Stadium just down the road.
And to take a brief detour to non-football football news, the Bucs were excited to get the queen of all pop-culture shoutouts -- a special thanks from Beyonce in the credits at the end of her "Lemonade" special over the weekend. The Bucs' social media folks proudly tweeted a screengrab of the credits, which included "Tampa Bay Buccaneers," as well as their NFC South rival New Orleans Saints.
Raise your hand if @Beyonce thanked you in the credits for #Lemonade
It's a nod to two weeks ago, when Beyonce was in town and husband Jay-Z, needing a place to work out in town, called the Bucs and asked if he could use their weight room. The team not only obliged, but hooked him up with a "YOUNG HOV" Bucs jersey, hand-delivered by quarterback Jameis Winston. …Full Story
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter had an uptempo practice during the first day of voluntary minicamp Tuesday before cutting the workout short by about 10 minutes.
That’s because the 82 degree temperature was beginning to take a toll, sending receiver Mike Evans into the locker room just before the end of practice. Koetter said he plans to beat the heat more effectively this season by keeping players fresh with shorter practices, if necessary.
"I think just in general, we need to work smart," Koetter said. "And one of the reasons we need to work smart, which may also be short, is because of the conditions we have here. When it’s warm out there, we need to get our guys fresh on game day and not kill them during the week. So we will be very conscious of how much we work. That’s just something I’ve become very aware of and coaches and players I’ve worked with over the years, is we all should monitor our volume closely and keep a real close eye on that. …Full Story
The Bucs opened voluntary minicamp Tuesday without starting guards J.R. Sweezy and Ali Marpet, and head coach Dirk Koetter said both are recovering from unspecified offseason procedures and won't likely practice until training camp in late July.
"J.R. had to have an offseason procedure done. He's going to be out for OTAs and will be back and ready to go for training camp," Koetter said. "We're starting a little bit earlier than some teams and there are tons of guys in the league having some offseason things cleaned up. J.R. falls into that category ... Ali is another guy that's in that boat. ... We don't have any guy on our team right now that we don't anticipate will be with us for training camp."
Sweezy wasn't at practice Tuesday, though Koetter said he was at One Buc Place, and both Marpet and guard/center Evan Smith did not participate while watching drills. With those linemen out, the Bucs had Kevin Pamphile working as the starting left guard and Josh Allen working at right guard. …Full Story
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Mike Evans has done is overcome his personal adversity to emerge as one of the best young receivers in the NFL.
Mike Evans was nine years old and asleep upstairs with his sister at their home in Galveston, Texas, the night his father Mickey was brutally stabbed repeatedly and shot to death.
In one moment, he lost the man who had been his childhood hero, unaware of an abusive relationship that ultimately led to the murderer’s rage.
A dozen years later, when he was selected seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL draft in 2014, Evans remembered the emotional journey and wept.
"It was tough and a lot of people have tough stories around the world," Evans said Tuesday. "It’s just that you can’t give up. There’s no excuse to give up the hand you’re dealt. You’ve just got to keep fighting and make something positive out of it."
The fact that it was Evan’s uncle, Sam Kilgore, who murdered his father makes the story even more compelling. Though still young, Mike would visit him in prison and even overcame his anger to forgive the man who committed the brutal crime.
Along the way, he learned the dark family secret that was the motive. …Full Story
GREG AUMAN | Times
Robert Ayers said it helps to be able to see the defense on the practice field, but there's much to learn between now and September.
Defensive end Robert Ayers just joined the Bucs last month in free agency, but to some extent, nearly all of Tampa Bay's defense is newcomers as it relates to the defensive scheme that new coordinator Mike Smith will be running this season.
After a walkthrough practice on the opening day of the Bucs' first voluntary minicamp, Ayers said it helps to be able to see the defense on the practice field, but there's much to learn between now and September.
"Right now, we're terrible. That's expected for this time of year," Ayers said of the early learning curve. "Nobody knows anything. It's expected, and you have guys who are willing to learn. If the stat told you they wanted us to come out and get 100 percent right, or 90 or even 80 percent of the things right, they'd be lying to you. We have high expectations, but the reality is you have to come out and get better, have the intent, the want-to to come out and get better and learn. As long as you've got that, it'll make up for everything else." …Full Story