GM Dominik says Bucs don't take 'short cuts on character,' after success of Williams, Blount
Executive: Scott Pioli, GM, Kansas City. Again, narrowly over the Bucs' Mark Dominik, whose team played 13 rookies in winning games at season's end. But Pioli's draft (strong character players and impact rookies), and the Chiefs winning the AFC West, gave him the edge. – SI’s Peter King, from Monday Morning Quarterback column Jan. 18, 2011.
INDIANAPOLIS – Mark Dominik is tired of what he believes is a growing perception that the Bucs won last season by riding the talent of two players with character issues – Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount.
Williams, a fourth-round pick from Syracuse, led all NFL rookies with 964 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. Blount, the former Oregon star who was claimed off waivers from the Tennessee Titans, led first-year players in rushing with 1,007 yards and six TDs.
Most NFL teams had taken both players off their draft boards. Williams had been suspended twice for missing curfew and quit the Orangemen football team with three games remaining in the season. Blount was suspended after throwing a punch at a Boise State player in the 2009 season opener.
“I don’t believe we have taken shortcuts on character,'' Dominik said Friday from the NFL scouting combine.
“I would say that, yes, character does matter. And in Tampa, the way that we approach the draft and the process of it is that we are certainly going to exhaust every means possible to dig into a guy that can help us.’’
It was exactly one year ago, in Room 102 at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in downtown Indianapolis, where Dominik, coach Raheem Morris and college scouting director Dennis Hickey met with a contrite Williams.
“You had to dig into his story of what occurred that evening,’’ Dominik said. “There were enough question marks in his story that you said, “Okay, I need to dig more from both aspects.’ But at the same point, here’s a guy you felt really loved playing football, you felt a real passion about the game, that could recollect certain plays that he had the year before. You could tell how much he missed the game. That was big part of that interview. You could tell it really bothered him not to have finished or played.’’
Dominik estimates that the Bucs spent about seven more hours researching Williams’ background, including several conversations with Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. According to Marrone, only three NFL teams even bothered to inquire about Williams at all and one of them never returned a phone message.
Several weeks earlier, at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the Bucs interviewed Blount and decided to make him one of the 30 allotted players invited to their training facility before the draft.
At the time, Dominik believed the Bucs backfield was too crowded and did not attempt to sign Blount as an undrafted free agent. But they targeted Blount as a player to follow closely throughout the preseason and jumped at the chance to claim him off waivers after cutting Derrick Ward in the preseason.
Those interviews, like the ones Dominik and his staff are conducting this week in the same hotel room in Indianapolis, lay the foundation for draft day decisions and beyond that will continue to shape the youngest team in the league.
“That’s where it started the process and through that interview, opened up that door for us to say “Let’s continue to explore,’’ Dominik said. “Let’s continue to work on it.
“Just like with LeGarrette, we spent over an hour with (him) at the Senior Bowl. We said, “Let’s continue to explore instead of just take the perception outside, the media’s perception of the guy.’’
Speaking of perceptions, King said Friday he actually credits Dominik and the Bucs for finding such value in Williams and Blount.
“I actually feel like in taking Mike Williams in the fourth round and in taking LeGarrette Blount off waivers and getting the production out of them, I totally applaud them,’’ King said Friday.
"That’s one of the reasons why I almost gave (Dominik) Executive of the Year. If he had taken Mike Williams in the bottom of the first round or top of the second, I would’ve said, “It is too dangerous.’
"Now, some of these guys could blow up. They just could. Is Blount going to stay on the straight and narrow? I don’t know. Is Mike Williams? I don’t know. But where they got them is not a negative in my opinion, it’s almost a positive.’’
Williams rookie season was marred by his arrest in Oct., in Tampa on suspicion of driving under the influence. But his blood alcohol level was .065 and .061, below the limit of .08 where the state of Florida considers a driving to be impaired, and the charges eventually were dropped.
Last year, the Bucs staff drew fire for being too aggressive with players during their interviews. Hickey was criticized for asking Florida State defensive back Myron Rolle if he felt he abandoned his Seminoles football team by leaving Tallahassee to study in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
Dominik doesn’t mind that scrutiny. He said Friday the Bucs will continue to dig deeper into players’ backgrounds, hoping to find another Williams or Blount. As for character, he points to players like Cody Grimm, E.J. Biggers, Erik Lorig and Sammie Stroughter who were all taken in the seventh round the last two years. Aside from the decision by Williams to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol and staying out too late, Dominik believes his two prized rookies conducted themselves well on and off the field.
"At the same time, you have to have a balance of what is acceptable and what you think is good for your football team and what you want to bring into your building,’’ Dominik said.
“We’re going to continue to do the process the same way. If the player interviews with our organization, and gives me a reason to think, number one, I like him enough to take him; number two, I can buy into what I’m hearing enough to at least dig into him deeper, we will. We absolutely will.’’