Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to NFL draft for defensive upgrade

“We have a lot of new working pieces on defense that are developing,” says GM Mark Dominik, talking with Raheem Morris.

Times (2010)

“We have a lot of new working pieces on defense that are developing,” says GM Mark Dominik, talking with Raheem Morris.

MOBILE, Ala. — When Mark Dominik settles into his favorite chair to watch Super Bowl XLV, perhaps the Bucs general manager will make comparisons between his team and the game's participants, the Packers and Steelers.

If so, he could easily contend his club measures up in one important respect: In Josh Freeman, the Bucs have a quarter­back who they believe can be every bit as good as Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers or Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.

But when the attention turns to the dominant defenses that will be on display in Arlington, Texas, next week, the Bucs can't argue they're anywhere near as intimidating.

Dominik readily admits this, which is why many of the moves in the offseason and in the upcoming draft will be driven by a desire to see the Bucs return to the days of championship-caliber defense.

But Dominik hasn't abandoned his other priority: putting talent around Freeman to maximize his potential.

That's the delicate balance the Bucs are trying to strike as the offseason gets under way.

"I look at the Super Bowl and see two really good quarterbacks," Dominik said during Senior Bowl workouts Wednesday.

"That's where it all begins. That's why I'm so excited, and that's why I think the whole team and the town is excited about what's going on in Tampa."

But in his very next breath, he added: "Certainly the model that defenses win championships, I still have a hard time believing that that's not the truth."

Dominik joined the Bucs in 1995 as an entry-level personnel assistant and had a front-row seat to some of the better defensive talent of the modern era. Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch became stars, making the Bucs contenders despite a lack of a consistent offense.

Yet when Dominik assumed his current post in 2009, his first order of business was to address the offense.

Following his convictions, Dominik grabbed Freeman with the team's first-round pick that year. Prior to that draft, he traded his second-round pick to the Browns to acquire tight end Kellen Winslow. And last year, the Bucs took receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams in the second and fourth rounds, respectively.

"We started out with attacking the offense on this football team," Dominik said. "We feel that's getting into a good, solid spot. It's always hard not to want to give more toys and tools to Josh Freeman because of how important that is to him to be consistent; to keep him (protected) and keep him healthy."

But don't accuse Dominik of ignoring the defense, particularly when he used the third overall pick last season on tackle Gerald McCoy followed by the selection of tackle Brian Price in the second round. Dominik argues the defensive resurgence is well under way.

"I feel good about where we're at," he said. "With (safety) Cody Grimm, the way he played; (cornerback) E.J. Biggers really developed; (cornerback) Myron Lewis got more work."

And the defensive building effort continues. The Bucs are confident the pass rushers in this draft offer an opportunity to address a key need. And they're giving serious consideration to a number of ends. They anticipated the depth at end in this draft and waited to address that position.

"Before we go into any draft, we always talk to our scouts and say, 'Okay, what's 2012 going to look like?' " Dominik said. "It's a heck of a group (in this year's draft at defensive end). I don't know how many are going to go in the first round, but it's going to be a good number."

Dominik started the Bucs' overhaul on offense, but he hasn't forgotten his early days with the club, either. Though not all of the pieces are in place, Dominik believes there could be parallels between the mid '90s and today.

"We have a lot of new working pieces on defense that are developing," he said. "In the early days when I was here, watching Sapp and Brooks out there playing, especially the first year, fans weren't quite sure what we had back then. And we added to it."

Apparently, that's something the Bucs will continue to do on offense and defense.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to NFL draft for defensive upgrade 01/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 9:34pm]

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