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Tampa Bay Buccaneers have bigger needs than at quarterback

TAMPA — It's a quarterback league.

Every NFL coach from Seattle to Tampa Bay will say that. Just consider the past three triggermen to win Super Bowls: the Manning brothers (Peyton, then Eli) and Ben Roethlisberger (twice), all first-round picks.

If a franchise doesn't have an established starter, it's likely to fall into the toxic pattern: change the coach, change the quarterback; change the coach, change the quarterback.

No wonder so many mock drafts have linked the Bucs' No. 19 overall pick to Kansas State QB Josh Freeman, whom coach Raheem Morris is familiar with, having been the Wildcats defensive coordinator in 2006.

Though it's true the Bucs will add a fourth quarterback to the mix before training camp (while paying lip service about their confidence in Luke McCown), the truth is they have bigger needs than who's under center.

Like defense. Pick a position, the Bucs need help.

"We've got obvious needs," Morris said. "We want some defensive tackles. We addressed a lot of our needs, obviously, in (free agency) on offense. We feel good about some of those positions. But in the draft, you're thinking D-tackles, you want to add corners, you want to add some players at those positions."

And not just any defensive tackles.

Under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates, the Bucs no longer value speed over size. They want 320-pound-plus tackles to take on double teams and clog up the running game, while hoping tight, bump-and-run coverage will force quarterbacks to pull down the ball.

Asked about the pass rush, Morris said, "Great D-linemen, that's what they do. Warren Sapp, you didn't have to talk to him about pressure. That's what he did. Simeon Rice, you didn't have to talk to him about pressure. That's the kind of character this D-line has had. We have to generate that. The only way you win games is if it starts up front. We all know that."

Because of those needs, the Bucs might look to trade down in the first round of the draft April 25. They'd like to recoup the second-round pick they sent to Cleveland for TE Kellen Winslow.

But finding a trade partner is never certain. Failing that, players like Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson, Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry, Tennessee DE Robert Ayers and Northern Illinois DE Larry English could be under consideration.

But don't rule out any position on defense, even linebacker.

K2 fallout: Because they gave up two picks for Winslow, the Bucs felt good about locking up the 25-year-old tight end with a six-year, $36 million contract, even though he had two years remaining on his deal. GM Mark Dominik is confident Winslow's history of knee problems is not an issue. But you have to wonder what franchise WR Antonio Bryant and LB Barrett Ruud, who will become free agents after 2009, are thinking.

Not like Mike: Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King speculated that the Bucs might be interested in Michael Vick if the jailed quarterback is reinstated.

We beg to differ.

Start with the obvious: Vick, 28, has not played football in two seasons. Even if a team can be satisfied his skills haven't significantly diminished, he remains property of the Falcons, who are unlikely to trade him to an NFC South team.

If Vick is reinstated and the Falcons release him, the salary cap hit will be $7.11 million in 2009. Teams would be free to negotiate a more reasonable deal with Vick as a condition of the trade. More than likely the Falcons will be forced to release Vick, making him a free agent.

But even if a team is satisfied with Vick's character, that he had paid his debt to society and was still talented enough to help, why would the Bucs want to invite the circus to town?

GruAllen update: What are former Bucs coach Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen up to, aside from lots of golf on their home course in Avila?

According to the Oregonian (Portland), Gruden recently spent some time talking offense with new Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. It turns out that Gruden turned down Kelly's offer to become offensive coordinator. Gruden has denied speculation that he's interested in jumping to college football, saying he wants to understand the Oregon spread offense if or when he returns to the NFL.

As for Allen, he will work as a guest analyst for the NFL Network on Tuesday when the league announces its 2009 schedule.

Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers have bigger needs than at quarterback 04/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 12, 2009 7:16am]
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