Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Moving Mason Foster could make sense for Bucs

While the Bucs’ new staff is working tirelessly to examine prospects for the upcoming draft while fine-tuning the free-agency wish list, it’s easy to forget that their impressions of the team’s current players will ultimately shape offseason personnel decisions.

So, though it’s too early to presume what roles the team’s returning players will have in 2012, it’s not too early to suggest a position change could be in the works for middle linebacker Mason Foster.

There are no firm plans yet to move Foster from middle linebacker to outside linebacker, but defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan and general manager Mark Dominik have already conceded it’s a real possibility. …

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How a potential Rams trade affects Bucs' draft

There’s more reason tonight to think the Rams are indeed going to trade out of the No. 2 spot in the draft and make a deal with a team hoping to land Baylor’s Robert Griffin III.

It should come as no surprise that a report tonight says conversations are already underway between the Rams and Browns (currently No. 4 overall), Redskins (6) and Dolphins (8), with the Rams willing and ready to make a deal with the highest bidder.

What does this have to do with the Bucs?

If and when the Rams find a trading partner, it could impact what players are available to the Bucs at No. 5. For instance, if the Rams were the stay put and decided to pass on Griffin, he likely would fall to the Browns at No. 4. Under that scenario, the Bucs would very possibly have their pick of LSU’s Morris Claiborne or Alabama’s Trent Richardson.

This assumes the Rams – who, remember, are staying at No. 2 under this hypothetical scenario – select Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon to address their woeful lack of receiving talent, the Vikings grab USC tackle Matt Kalil and the Browns get their man, Griffin, at No. 4.

But with this potential trade in play, things could get topsy-turvy. …

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Manningham to Bucs is far from a slam dunk

Clark Judge of CBSSports.com created a sizable stir over the weekend with a report that indicated Giants receiver Mario Manningham is unlikely to re-sign with New York and could be bound for the Bucs.

Judge is a reputable reporter and there's presumably serious merit to this report, but let's take a step back and take a broader look at this possibility.

There are a number of reasons this might not be a slam dunk. While the link to Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan is an obvious one (Sullivan previously worked for the Giants), it might be premature to say Manningham will be comfortable in Sullivan's offense. It remains unclear what Sullivan's offense will actually look like because he wasn't the playcaller in New York nor did he design the scheme.

Sullivan's offensive principles and preferences will be known to Manningham, but whether that seals the deal is hard to say. It is worth pointing out that Sullivan, having coached the Giants' receivers, too, likely will know how to use Manningham for maximum impact. …

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PK Connor Barth won't be a free agent, GM Dominik says; team could use their franchise tag

Bucs place-kicker Connor Barth, who made 26-of-28 field attempts last season, will not become an unrestricted free agent, general manager Mark Dominik said Saturday.

Barth is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 13. The Bucs are in the process of attempting to sign him to a long-term deal. But failing an agreement, Dominik essentially made it clear the Bucs would not hesitate to use their franchise tag on Barth.    

"We obviously like Conner Barth a lot,'' Dominik said from the NFL scouting combine Saturday. "He's done a good job for us since he's been a Buccaneer. The truth is we think enough of him that he's not going to be an unrestricted free agent. We'll just figure out where that takes us from here.

"We are having discussions.'' 

The franchise tag number for place-kickers is about $2.65-million on a one-year contract that is guaranteed. Barth earned $1.9-million in 2011.

Dominik would not comment on negotiations, but it's believed that Barth is seeking a contract similar to the five-year, $15.759-million deal signed by Patriots place-kicker Stephen Gostkowski last season. …

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Schiano wants Freeman to push the 'reset button'

Quarterback Josh Freeman had a season in 2011 he would like to forget. That's exactly what Bucs coach Greg Schiano wants him to do.

"What I’m going to do is ask Josh to just kind of take a mind eraser and start over,'' Schiano said Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

One year after throwing 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions while posting a 10-6 record in his first full year as a starter, Freeman and the Bucs crashed back to earth, passing for 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions while losing 10 straight games to finish 4-12.

But Freeman will not only have a new head coach but a new offensive coordinator in Mike Sullivan, the Giants quarterbacks coach the past two seasons who helped quarterback Eli Manning enjoy one of his best years and a Super Bowl XLVI victory over the Patriots in Indianapolis.

Schiano said rather than try to recapture some of the things Freeman did well in 2010, Sullivan will start over with the 24-year-old quarterback. …

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Schiano says Barber will ultimately let the Bucs know how he fits in the defense for 2012

When Greg Schiano was the defensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes more than a dozen years ago, he used to drive to Tampa to watch the Bucs defense practice.

Ronde Barber was at cornerback.

He could be there again in 2012.  

"So it was Monte (Kiffin) and Lovie (Smith) and Rod (Marinelli) and Herm (Edwards),'' Schiano said. "Well, (Barber) was there. He was there, he was playing corner. Trust me, I think he knows how much I appreciate what has been accomplished here over the years, especially on defense. When you look at some of the great defenses. I’m just going to tell him, “This is what we’re going to try to build here, where do you see yourself fitting in?''

Schiano said he met with Barber about 10 minutes recently and another gathering is planned following the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

At that time, Schiano says, he hopes to get an exchange of ideas from Barber about how he could help the Bucs if he decides to return for a 16th season.   …

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Schiano sounds willing to give Talib a clean slate next season

Bucs coach Greg Schiano knows the troubled past of cornerback Aqib Talib and hopes his pending felony assault case in Texas next month will be resolved in his favor.

"He tells me it will,'' Schiano said.

Schiano said he met with Talib recently and sounds willing to wipe the slate clean. In fact, Schiano believes Talib can benefit from some of the expectations he will place on all players.

"I had a great meeting with him and we just kind of talked about life for a little bit,'' Schiano said. "I know there’s been some things in the past. But at the end of the day, the legal stuff that’s going on right now, hopefully that will get resolved. He tells me it will. …

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Bucs announce defensive coaching staff

The Bucs today announced their defensive coaching staff.

Here is the release from the team:

 2012 DEFENSIVE COACHING STAFF ANNOUNCED
 …

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Bucs still without QBs coach, but Sullivan will take active role with Freeman

The Bucs made another hire last night, bringing aboard LSU defensive backs coach Ron Cooper to coach Tampa Bay's secondary.

But there's still work to be done. The Bucs have not yet hired a quarterbacks coach, something that is considered critical given Josh Freeman's struggles last season.

We don't know who the candidates are just yet, but we can answer a few questions based on what a source tells us. For one, the Bucs do not intend to have offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan pull double duty (coordinator and quarterbacks coach). That was something asked of former offensive coordinator Greg Olson in 2009, and all involved agreed it wasn't an ideal situation. That arrangement limited one-on-one with Freeman and the remaining quarterbacks.

However, we're also told that Sullivan, while not the QBs coach, will take a more active role in coaching the position than most coordinators. That's a good thing for the Bucs considering Sullivan is given significant credit for helping Giants quarterback Eli Manning bounce back with a strong 2011 season after a step back in 2010. …

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LSU defensive backs coach Ron Cooper leaves Tigers for Bucs

The Bucs hope to be in a position to consider selecting Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne, one of the top talents in the NFL draft, with the No. 5 overall pick.

On Wednesday, they hired the coach that knows Claiborne best.

LSU defensive backs coach Ron Cooper has left the Tigers to take the same position with the Buccaneers, the school confirmed.

Claiborne, 22, won the Jim Thorpe award as the nation's top defensive back in college football.

Under Cooper, the Tigers' secondary accounted for 16 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries and 12 forced fumbles. LSU led the nation in turnover margin (+1.69) and ranked fifth in total interceptions with 18.

The Tigers allowed just seven passing touchdowns all season, the fewest by an LSU team since it allowed only five in 1989.

 

 

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What about the Bucs' 'other' free agents?

You probably already know the Bucs have a handful of unrestricted free agents that they'll be making decisions on in the near future. Among them are Jeremy Zuttah, Connor Barth and Earnest Graham.

But there are some free agents in different classifications that must be addressed, too. Let's look at some key players whose contracts are expiring.

DE Michael Bennett: Probably the most notable of these players, Bennett is scheduled to become a restricted free agent, provided the Bucs tender him a requisite one-year contract offer, as expected. Bennett had a breakout season in 2011, starting 10 games, leading all defensive linemen with 39 total tackles while adding a career-high four sacks.

Bennett is a versatile player who showed an ability to play either defensive end spot while displaying the toughness to play defensive tackle with surprising effectiveness when asked. Da'Quan Bowers is likely to be the left defensive end in the long term, given his high draft status (he was a second-round pick) and his strong finish to the season. Bennett, by comparison, wasn't drafted by the Bucs and was acquired off waivers in 2009. …

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12:30: Chat live with Tom Jones

Want to talk about the Bucs' recent coaching hires? Rays spring training?The Lightning's trades? Sports on TV/radio? Join Times sports personality Tom Jones for a live chat today, from 12:30-1:30 p.m.

You can join the chat here.

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Nothing imminent with Bucs, Jeremy Zuttah

The Bucs have a high opinion of guard Jeremy Zuttah, and Zuttah has been clear that he would like to remain with Tampa Bay and his former college coach, Greg Schiano. That's something we pointed out to you in an earlier post.

But that doesn't mean a deal is close to getting done, with Zuttah not set to become a free agent until March 13. Yes, the sides have a common goal, which is to enable Zuttah to stay in Tampa Bay. But here's an important distinction that needs to be made here: Zuttah's agent, Noel LaMontagne, and general manager Mark Dominik, haven't had any substantive contract talks yet.

LaMontagne was optimistic earlier today when asked about the situation, but everyone knows that no deal can get done before the details of a contract are dealt with. In other words, the subject of money -- the most important in a contract negotiation -- hasn't yet been broached.

That's not to say those conversations aren't going to happen, and it's certainly not a suggestion that Zuttah won't be in a Buccaneers uniform in 2012. But don't go looking for news of a deal just yet.

Three weeks is plenty of time for these things for things to play themselves out, so stay tuned.

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Bill Sheridan's first impressions of the Bucs defense

Bill Sheridan has only been the Bucs' defensive coordinator since Friday, but he's spent substantial time since them watching cut-ups of some of the defense's worst moments from the 2011 season.

It makes sense to watch the bad before the good because it gives a better sense of what needs to be fixed. To that end, Sheridan said he believes much of what he saw from last season -- when the Bucs had the NFL's 30th-ranked defense -- is repairable.

"They’re very correctable (problems) from a technique standpoint," Sheridan said. ". . . I think when we watched the film – and, again, we’re watching the worst just to get a feel for our personnel and just to see what the real issues were – a lot of it was just technique (issues) that you see. We were just watching this in the last couple of days."

A related issue, Sheridan added, was that, "a lot of that has to do with (the lack of) great effort and pursuit to the ball, which Greg (Schiano) and I saw exactly the same from an importance standpoint."

Another observation: the lack of a consistent pass rush. …

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Bill Sheridan happy to run Schiano's defense

Greg Schiano won’t be the Bucs’ defensive coordinator and likely won’t be making play calls during games. But make no mistake: The Bucs will be playing his defense, not Bill Sheridan’s.

That much was made clear by Sheridan today in his first meeting with Tampa Bay reporters at One Buc Place.

Sheridan, hired by the Bucs as defensive coordinator on Friday, said today that he welcomes the assistance of Schiano and special assistant Butch Davis as he takes on his new role.

“I think our defense, it’s going to be Greg Schiano’s defense because he’s our head coach and I’m coordinating for him,” Sheridan said.

“Obviously he hired me because he thinks I have a lot of experience, knowledge and competence, and he’s relying on that as well. “I’m excited about jumping into it and trying to mesh our ideas. But it’s Greg’s defense for sure. He was an outstanding defensive coach long before he was ever coach at Rutgers.” …

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