Gruden says Bucs need help on defensive line
After presiding over one of the biggest collapses in NFL history last season, Jon Gruden says the Bucs need to focus on defense, particularly the defensive line.
The former Tampa Bay coach took part in a national conference call for the NFL Network with Steve Mariucci Tuesday. Gruden is working as an NFL draft analyst this weekend for the league's television network.
After a 9-3 start, the Bucs lost four straight games the final month of 2008 to miss the playoffs while the defense allowed nearly 400 total yards per game during that stretch. That led to the firing of Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen.
Gruden said he believed the Bucs might use the 19th overall pick in Saturday's NFL draft on a defensive end and find a defensive tackle later in the draft that fits the new system under defensive coordinator Jim Bates.
"I think this is one of the seven teams in pro football that has had back-to-back winning seasons, so they've got guys that know how to win and expect to win,'' Gruden said. "They obviously have good players, or they wouldn't have had back-to-back winning seasons. But I really think Tampa Bay lost some key players on defense and they struggled down the stretch last season on defense, let's be honest, for whatever reason -- most of that obviously was the head coach's inability to get it going.
"Kevin Carter is still out there. I think Greg White - Stylz White -- he obviously had a disappointing sophomore season. This is a big year for Gaines Adams and the new scheme. I wouldn't be surprised if they do target a defensive end.
"The interior linemen, I think everybody down here expects them to draft a defensive tackle. I just don't know if that player is there for them in the first round. I don't know if that kind of guy is in this draft, other than the (B.J.) Raji kid at Boston College. I know (Peria) Jerry at Ole Miss, he's not as big as maybe the guy that Jim Bates has played with in the past in Miami. Ziggy Hood (Missouri defensive tackle) similar. I just don't know if that guy fits what the Bucs really want and need at 19.
Since 2004, the Bucs have averaged 30.8 sacks per season. Adams led the club with 6.5 in 2008 while White had five.
Another possibility in the first round is cornerback, according to Gruden. Bates favors more bump-and-run coverage and cornerback Ronde Barber turned 34 earlier this month.
"They could use a could use a corner,'' Gruden said. "I think we all know this year the corner draft is not as good as it was last season, but a Vontae Davis from Illinios...I guy I know Tampa Bay would like is Alphoso Smith from Wake Forest, that's just my opinion because all he does is make plays. But I would be surprised if they didn't take a defensive end or take one of those defensive tackles that we talked about to give them some flexibility in their defensive line. Maybe look for a corner. And I think with the addition of (Angelo) Crowell, the emergence of Quincy Black, moving Jermaine Phillips to linebacker, I think they'll probably look elsewhere. But I expect a defensive player, and ideally an internal player if they can find one.''
A year ago, the Bucs used their first-round pick on Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib, who tied with Barber for the club lead with four interceptions as a rookie despite part-time duty. Talib admitted to using marijuana during his early years at Kansas but Gruden says each team has to do their background checks before deciding whether to take a player with a checkered past.
"We don't overlook that. Obviously, we met Aqib Talib,'' Gruden said. "We do a lot of research with our scouts, with our general manager and not only that, you do it yourself. You talk to the coach, you talk to the support people at the university. At the same time, you realize a lot of these players come from some very difficult backgrounds where they made some mistakes. Some of these guys, they deserve an opportunity to live their life like they know they can live it and they need some guidance and they need some structure around them. When you have that environment that's really condusive to them to come on and explode onto the scene, you don't hesitate if you trust the kid.''
Gruden said among the deepest position in the draft is at wide receiver.
"I like the receivers as well,'' Gruden said. "Last year, we were starving to take one and probably reached, if you want to be honest, in the second round, taking a young guy (Dexter Jackson) who might still develop into a player. But I like this year's receiving corps.''