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Tampa Bay Buccaneers seek another piece of foundation at combine

Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, left, has been linked to the Bucs’ pick at No. 20 in some mock drafts. Pass rush is a priority.

Getty Images (2010)

Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, left, has been linked to the Bucs’ pick at No. 20 in some mock drafts. Pass rush is a priority.

INDIANAPOLIS — Not long after you exit I-70 traveling from the Indianapolis International Airport to downtown, a large banner is visible at Lucas Oil Stadium that reads, "Home of Super Bowl 2012."

The quest to play in that game began here two years ago, according to Bucs coach Raheem Morris.

Coming off a 10-6 season with the league's youngest roster (average age of 25 years, 295 days), Morris has grown to love the trek to the NFL scouting combine at the stadium the Colts call home.

When Morris took over as coach in 2009, this is where the Bucs spent the most extensive time evaluating quarterback Josh Freeman, now the leader of the offense.

A year ago, the Bucs dissected the talents of defensive tackle of Gerald McCoy, whom it took third overall.

This year? Morris believes the Bucs are in a great position to continue building a championship team around those two.

"I think when you take over a program, the first three drafts are going to define you," Morris said Wednesday. "It started with the quarterback (Freeman) and then we got the centerpiece of our defense, hopefully, last year in Gerald."

The Bucs pick 20th overall, which makes targeting a singular player tricky. But Morris has demonstrated he will put rookies right into the fire regardless of where they're drafted. Last season, the Bucs started 10 first-year players, the most by a team to finish with a winning record since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

The starters included McCoy, who missed the final four games with a torn biceps, receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, cornerback Myron Lewis, safety Cody Grimm and linebacker Dekoda Watson.

The physical, 40-yard dash, shuttle run and bench press are important for players who participate this week. But for Morris, the interviews might have the biggest impact.

"You get a chance to see these guys interact, be under the gun with questioning," Morris said. "You have a chance to get these guys on the (greaseboard) depending on what position they play. Whether it's a character issue, a football issue or a love for the game issue, we all have our individual issues. So it's a great chance to get around these guys."

Here are some other story lines worth following this week:

Defensive ends

The 2010 draft class was rich in defensive tackles, and the Bucs took advantage by grabbing McCoy then Brian Price in the second round.

This year's draft is heavy in defensive ends, and the Bucs desperately need an edge rusher. Stylez White, who led them with just 41/2 sacks, is a free agent and unlikely to return. The Bucs were 28th in run defense in 2010, allowing 131.7 yards per game, and tied with Jacksonville for 30th with 26 sacks.

Finding ways to get more pressure on the quarterback is the No. 1 goal of the offseason.

Several players, including Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, have been linked to the Bucs in mock drafts. But Morris is quick to note the cupboard could be bare when they pick 20th.

"The tricky part when you pick No. 20, a lot of times you can't really tell what's going to happen," Morris said.

"There could be a run on certain positions. There could be a run on quarterbacks, a run on defensive tackles, a run on defensive ends. The run starts differently in every draft. We've got to be prepared to deal with what pops up."

Free agents

Given the labor uncertainty, which could postpone free agency if no agreement is reached by March 4, there's even more focus on the draft.

But general manager Mark Dominik has a chance over the next eight days to lock up a few players who could test the market. That begins with guard Davin Joseph and linebacker Barrett Ruud but also includes running back Cadillac Williams and, perhaps, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood.

Tuesday, the Bucs re-signed cornerback Ronde Barber to a one-year contract. That could be just a harbinger of things to come.

Debriefing scheduled

The NFL is requiring each team to have three members of their front office, including the coach and general manager, at a meeting at 5:30 p.m. today for an update on issues pertaining to the labor uncertainty and football operations. They will discuss how league business will be conducted in the event of a lockout and the type of contact franchises can have with agents.

>>Fast facts

Scouting combine

What: Fitness tests and interviews with prospects

When: Through Tuesday

Where: Indianapolis

TV: Various times on the NFL Network

Tampa Bay Buccaneers seek another piece of foundation at combine 02/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:58pm]

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