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Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope to get Trent Richardson or Morris Claiborne

TAMPA — Greg Schiano spent enough time in the living rooms of recruits as Rutgers coach over the past 11 years to know competitive balance is a foreign concept in college football.

Time after time, as signing day approached, his heart was ripped out when a player bailed on an oral commitment for a more prestigious program.

So the idea of not getting every player he wants in the draft is no big deal to Schiano, now the Bucs coach. The fact that the Bucs get to keep the players they select over the next three days is reason enough to excite the 45-year-old.

"The thing I love, when you come from college, you get a chance at 200 and some draft picks," Schiano said. "Those are the 200 or so best players in the world. How can you go wrong as long as you pick the ones that fit your system and fit the kind of people you want?"

The Bucs began the draft process with relative certainty either Alabama running back Trent Richardson or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne would be available when they pick fifth overall.

But Wednesday, the eve of the draft, it appeared the Bucs might have to make a trade with the Vikings, who have the No. 3 pick, to guarantee themselves a shot at one or both.

In their final mock drafts, ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay each had Claiborne going to the Vikings and Richardson to the Browns at No. 4.

The Colts have announced Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 overall choice, and the Redskins followed suit by confirming Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III would be their selection at No. 2.

Schiano has called Richardson "a special talent" and says he covets a "bell cow" running back that can play on every down. Starter LeGarrette Blount has been a one-dimensional, inside runner who has fumbled nine times (losing six) over two seasons.

"I do believe at times, the best way to play is to play keep-away," Schiano said. "Especially when you have teams like we have in our division and quarterbacks like we have in our division."

But complicating a trade up is the fact Tampa Bay does not own a fourth-round pick, traded to the Eagles to move up in last year's fourth round. Most likely, the Bucs would have to swap their first- and third-round selections to move up a mere two spots.

The Vikings also have been linked to Southern Cal offensive tackle Matt Kalil. If Kalil goes third overall and Richardson fourth to the Browns, the Bucs would probably be thrilled to select Claiborne, considered the best cornerback in the draft.

Ronde Barber, 37, could be moved to safety. Aqib Talib faces a June 25 trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and could be suspended if convicted. The Bucs signed cornerback Eric Wright in the offseason.

Claiborne, a Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's best defensive back, caused a stir when it was reported he scored a four out of 50 on the Wonderlic test. Claiborne's defensive backs coach at LSU, Ron Cooper, now has the same job on Schiano's staff. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik has said the intelligence test is only one factor in a player's evaluation.

Kalil, considered by some a franchise left tackle, might be a long-term upgrade over veteran Donald Penn. The Bucs also would have to consider Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, the top receiver in the draft. Even though Tampa Bay signed receiver Vincent Jackson, it might want another weapon for quarterback Josh Freeman.

"If you look back (at Rutgers) when we had guys, when we had Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, we were the first team in NCAA history to have a 3,000-yard quarterback, a 1,000-yard running back and two 1,000-yard receivers," Schiano said. "So we'll throw it around when we have the guys to do it and when you have the quarterback to do it. I do think we have the quarterback to put the ball down the field."

After cornerback, the Bucs' biggest need might be linebacker. To that end, if Richardson and Claiborne are gone, they could target Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

The Bronko Nagurski Award winner as the nation's best defensive player is a tackling machine, averaging an NCAA-record 14 for his career. He would bring toughness to the middle of the defense, which ranked last against the run in 2011. And Kuechly, who is good in coverage, would enable the Bucs to move Mason Foster to weakside linebacker.

Schiano believes being fresh from Rutgers and with former North Carolina coach Butch Davis hired as the special assistant to the head coach, the Bucs might have an advantage in evaluating players for this draft.

"We've had a lot of advantage in terms of getting to know these young men before they even went to college," Schiano said. "We sat in their living rooms."

And this time, Schiano doesn't have to worry about the player the Bucs select going somewhere else.

More coverage

Scan this with your mobile device to watch a video featuring Times staff writers Tom Jones and Stephen F. Holder discussing the most likely draft scenarios for the Bucs.

Bucs draft party

When: 6:30 tonight (parking lots open at 6)

Where: East Club Lounge, Raymond James Stadium

Admission: Free

Radio: 620-AM will broadcast the event live.

Details: Cheerleaders and former Bucs will sign autographs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope to get Trent Richardson or Morris Claiborne 04/25/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 26, 2012 12:46pm]
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