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For Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finding talent has been key to success

TAMPA — At some point Sunday when Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman scans the field for weapons, he will see rookie receiver Mike Williams to his left, rookie receiver Arrelious Benn to his right with rookie fullback Erik Lorig and rookie tailback LeGarrette Blount behind him.

Tight end Kellen Winslow might be the only eligible receiver not in his first season. Meanwhile, Freeman last week started only his 16th game, the equivalent of his rookie year.

"At the beginning of the season, I guarantee you there were 16 games where teams circled us and said, 'We can win that one,' " general manager Mark Dominik said. "The thing that's exciting about it is because we are the youngest team in the National Football League."

For all the mistakes Dominik and coach Raheem Morris made in their first season at the helm — and they're well-documented — it might be time to start giving the two their due.

Somebody knows how to pick talent.

It's one thing to say you are going to build through the draft. What team doesn't want to do that? It's another when 27 draft picks are on the roster, including 17 who are starters.

That doesn't include the draft picks from other teams who have been plucked off the waiver wire and plugged into the lineup, such as defensive end Tim Crowder or guard Ted Larsen.

And you have to consider that the Bucs have 20 undrafted players, a list that includes tackle Donald Penn and Blount.

"A lot was made about our 2010 draft class, and I'm very happy they're performing well," Dominik said. "But the thing people don't see is that the 2009 NFL draft class in general has been very disappointing leaguewide. It was a horrific draft. Over a third of the players have been cut already.

"Yet, in ours, we've got Josh, Roy Miller, Kyle Moore, Sammie Stroughter and E.J. Biggers. … A lot of teams aren't in the position we are because of the overhaul we did. So when you go get Crowder off waivers or you claim a Michael Bennett or Corey Lynch or this year Ted Larsen and LeGarrette Blount, you start picking up extra picks."

This week, the Bucs claimed defensive tackle Al Woods off waivers from the Steelers. With injuries to Brian Price and Ryan Sims, Woods or Alex Magee, who was acquired in a trade with Kansas City, could be active Sunday.

"I'll admit the mistake last year if I can get someone better than him," Dominik said.

Of course, sometimes the player you release turns out to be a mistake.

"Al Harris resonates in my head all the time when I think about this," Dominik said. "Great player. We should've kept him and we didn't, and in the end Green Bay capitalized the most on it."

For Dominik and his scouting staff to be successful, they have to have a willing partner in Morris, who has no problem turning over the bottom part of his roster.

"That's the thing that's good about Coach Morris," Dominik said. "He's willing to do those things when some coaches won't have that open-door philosophy. And Coach has a good eye for talent. He's a good evaluator. We can have candid conversations, and it's easier to say, 'Is this a guy we want? How can he help us?' We can have a real heart to heart. So when we go and claim LeGarrette Blount or Ted Larsen, he sees the traits when he looks at the tape and says I got it.

"If they can't play, they'll weed themselves out."

For Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finding talent has been key to success 11/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 6:57pm]
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