More on Bucs' 'Pee Wee' Lambert and Channing Ward
Wednesday's Times has a feature on Bucs rookie defensive ends DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward, and the blog here is a good way to get to many things that couldn't make it into the constraints of the printed page.
Anytime you're trying to track down coaches for a story you're writing the same day, you have limited expectations for who you're actually able to get on the phone, so you'll often cast a wide net, hoping to get a few calls backs and insights into a player's background. With Lambert and Ward, I was able to score not only both of their high school coaches, but a pair of college assistants and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. Thanks much to both Auburn and Ole Miss for their help in lining those up.
-- Lambert was never DaVonte to teammates or coaches, either in tiny Keysville, Ga., or at Auburn -- he's Pee Wee, they told me, a wonderful nickname for a 280-pound person. "His grandmama gave him that name," said Auburn assistant Rodney Garner, who had initially tried to recruit Lambert to Georgia when he was an assistant there, then ended up reuniting with him with the Tigers. "Pee Wee is a special young man," said Garner, who signed him out of Georgia Military College and had him for two years at Auburn -- he likely would have been drafted if he hadn't torn his ACL late in his junior year, something he didn't fully recover from during his senior year.
-- Garner liked Lambert's versatility, something the Bucs have definitely embraced, using him inside and outside with his combination of size and speed. "He could be a strongside end on first and second down, can move inside on third down and play three technique (DT)," said Garner, who has coached some great defensive linemen in his time, from Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud to Charles Johnson and Charles Grant. "Pee Wee had those same intangibles. I knew if he just got into somebody's camp, there was no question he was going to make somebody's roster," he said. "I love him like a son. He's going to continue to do well."
-- Garner compares Lambert to Kedric Golston, a nose tackle who played for him at Georgia and has made it 11 years in the NFL, all with the Redskins. "He's a guy they're always trying to replace, but because of his character, his leadership skills, his consistency, his dependability, they can never replace him," Garner said. "They call him 'Uncle' at the Redskins because he's been there so long. They just love him. You couldn't find a better young man than Pee Wee."
-- Dave Wommack, Ole Miss' defensive coordinator, talked about how rare it is to have someone strong enough to play interior defensive line, yet athletic and quick enough to work on kickoff coverage, running 50 yards downfield to make a tackle. Ward was one of the first players to sign with Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze, a four-year contributor who played a ton, but only ended up starting four games, all during his senior year. "He's a big, big part of what we've built here, an important part," he said. "To run down the field at that size, he can move around and do things extremely well." Asked about Ward only managing four starts and how much that speaks to the Rebels' defensive depth, Wommack joked it was "either that or we didn't know what we were doing." They had a 10-man rotation on the defensive line and played their backups more than most schools. "He was always a starter to me, whether it was in the box (score) or came up on the video board or whatever," he said.
-- As far as why Ward wasn't drafted, Wommack said he was always a "gamer" -- didn't have all the measurables that scouts like, but took his game up a notch when the whistle blew. "We're really excited he made the team down there and is getting a chance," Wommack said. Like Lambert, Ole Miss used Ward as their "Bandit" defensive end and also at three-technique, the same versatility he's shown early on with the Bucs.