New Bucs K Mike Nugent has succeeded in some very difficult conditions
Wherein we take a look back at the previous week (or two) and provide some additional notes on the news at hand…This week, a little more to chew on regarding Mike Nugent, 1,000-yard offensive players, the draft and free agency
Here's something new you'll find on Buccaneers.com this offseason.
Each weekend, we'll do a quick recap on some of the previous week's news, with a little bit of extra information that wasn't included the first time around. Unless it was a particularly news-thin week, in which case we won't. Since we haven't done our weekend wrap-up since mid-February, we're going to look back a bit further this time, at the last two weeks.
That's pretty much it. So let's move right along with a little more info on…
…new Buccaneers kicker Mike Nugent.
On March 4, about five days into the free agency period, the Buccaneers unexpectedly added a new placekicker in former New York Jet Mike Nugent. The team still has its very successful kicker of the last four years, Matt Bryant, on the roster, which means Bryant and Nugent will engage in an open competition for the job in 2009.
Nugent missed all but the season opener last year due to a thigh injury, and he was replaced by veteran Jay Feely. The Jets still have Feely on hand, so perhaps Nugent was bound to look for a new situation when he became an unrestricted free agent two weeks ago. One might also surmise that Nugent will enjoy kicking anywhere but the Meadowlands, his home stadium for the last four years.
After all, the New Jersey venue is annually considered one of the toughest places to kick, thanks in large part to often heavy and one-directional winds. Statistically, it generally ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of overall field goal percentage.
But here's where that theory falls apart: Nugent has actually been outstanding in home games at the Meadowlands. In fact, he has kicked better there than on the road.
Of Nugent's 92 career regular-season field goal attempts, 53 have come in home games. Remarkably, Nugent has made 46 of those 53 kicks, for a success rate of 86.8%. Of his 39 field goal tries on the road, Nugent has made 29, or 74.4%.
That's not a knock on Nugent's road prowess. The sample size is probably too small to mean anything more than chance. For instance, one of his 10 misses was in that season opener last year at Miami, when he tried a three-pointer after he had sustained his leg injury. Just removing that understandable miss causes Nugent's success rate to rise by 2%.
It's hard not to be impressed by that 46-of-53 in the often harsh conditions of the Meadowlands, however. Nugent has a lot to prove to win the Bucs' kicking job in 2009, but those home numbers in New Jersey suggest he is not one to back down from tough situations.
…1,000-yard rushers and receivers.
In describing what we called the Productivity Plan a little over a week ago — a reference to the efforts of the team's new brass to stock the roster with as many productive and proven players as possible — we mentioned that two of the Bucs' most recent additions had recently produced 1,000-yard seasons.
Tight end Kellen Winslow was a 1,000-yard receiver as recently as 2007 and running back Derrick Ward cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season. They join Antonio Bryant, coming off a 1,000-yard campaign for the Buccaneers in 2008, and Michael Clayton, who still hopes to recapture his 1,000-yard magic of 2004.
Incumbent running back Earnest Graham has yet to join the 1,000-yard club, but that's mainly a matter of circumstance. He had 898 yards in 2007 but wasn't the team's starter until Game Six, after injuries to Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman. Then he established a near-1,000-yard pace last season before going down with a leg injury one play into Game 10.
The point is, there is no shortage of candidates to crack 1,000 yards either rushing or receiving for Tampa Bay in 2009 (maybe even 2005 1,000-yard rusher Williams, who is again a question mark due to injury). Ward was one of a pair of backs who had 1,000 yards for the Giants last year, along with Brandon Jacobs, and it's not out of the question that he could form the same sort of tandem with Graham.
That would certainly represent the best-case-scenario of the Bucs' productivity plan. It would also be a first in franchise history, as the team has never had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. The closest they have come to that was in 1998, when Warrick Dunn gained 1,026 yards and Mike Alstott added 846.
Even if Graham and Ward don't both reach four digits, there is certainly a strong chance that the Bucs will have a 1,000-yard performer in both the ground and air games, especially since they now have a tight end with a proven track record in that regard. Even that would be an unusual occurrence for the franchise. Only once in the team's 33 previous seasons has it finished the year with both a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver. That was in 2005, when Williams put up 1,178 rushing yards and wide receiver Joey Galloway added 1,287 receiving yards.
Not coincidentally, Tampa Bay won the NFC South in 2005.
…the 19th overall pick in the NFL Draft.
On Friday, we took a look back at the players who have entered the league as the 19th overall pick through the years. We found a surprisingly strong run of success over the last decade and a half, with Pro Bowlers galore coming out of that spot. The reason for the analysis: Tampa Bay is scheduled to pick 19th in 2009.
Obviously, the success of past teams in a certain numerical slot has little to do with the type of player the Buccaneers will get there this April. Still, it was interesting to learn the shared history of #19 picks, from Antonio Cromartie to Randall McDaniel.
We even ran across a strange and slightly uncomfortable coincidence at #19, which happened to be the same pick used on both Darryl Stingley and Jack Tatum. Stingley was tragically paralyzed in the preseason of 1978 after he was hit by Tatum.
Well, here's the extra info: The Buccaneers also have a coincidental attachment to #19, even though they themselves have never utilized that pick in the first round. In 1975, the Buffalo Bills drafted Nebraska linebacker Tom Ruud with the 19th overall pick. Tom Ruud is the father of current Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
…the comings and goings of free agents.
In case you missed it, we launched our annual Free Agency Tracker on Thursday, giving readers a chance to keep track of what has happened with all of Tampa Bay's own 2009 free agents.
The general conclusion, to this point at least: The Bucs have already taken care of most of the necessary work in that regard. Two unrestricted free agents have left and another three remain on the open market, but eight Buccaneers from the 2008 team have re-signed either before or since the start of free agency.
Here's a larger question: How has free agency affected the rest of the NFC South? Let's take a quick look at what has happened so far in Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans.
The main story for the Falcons seems to revolve around the linebackers. Two of their three starters from last season, Michael Boley and Keith Brooking, have left as unrestricted free agents. However, Atlanta has also added to the position by nabbing former Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson.
As with the Bucs' Free Agency Tracker, however, we're focusing mostly on what has happened with each team's list of their own unrestricted free agents. The Falcons have lost cornerback Domonique Foxworth and defensive tackle Grady Jackson in addition to Boley and Brooking. However, they have also re-signed defensive end Chauncey Davis; linebackers Tony Gilbert and Coy Wire; defensive tackle Jason Jefferson; and guard Ben Wilkerson.
Still pending for Atlanta are unrestricted free agents tackle Wayne Gandy, tackle Patrick McCoy and safety Lawyer Milloy.
The Panthers key issue was keeping two of their stars in the trenches, tackle Jordan Gross and defensive end Julius Peppers. Carolina was able to re-sign Gross and has put the franchise tag on Peppers.
Carolina has seen three of its unrestricted free agents sign elsewhere: center Geoff Hangartner, tackle Frank Omiyale and defensive tackle J'Vonne Parker. The team still has a long list of un-signed players, including Peppers, technically. Others include wide receivers Jason Carter and Mark Jones; linebackers Donte' Curry and Adam Seward; defensive tackles Gary Gibson and Darwin Walker; and long-snapper Jason Kyle.
The Saints have made a nice start in re-signing their own important free agents, locking up linebacker Jonathan Vilma, tackle Jon Stinchcomb and wide receiver Devery Henderson. All three were starters and big-time contributors for the team in 2008.
So far, New Orleans has lost just one of its unrestricted free agents, safety Josh Bullocks, who departed for the Chicago Bears. There is a very long list of pending unrestricted free agents for the Saints, though it's possible New Orleans is not interested in retaining a good number of them. That list includes fullback Darian Barnes; tight end Mark Campbell; cornerbacks Aaron Glenn, Terrence Holt and Michael Lehan; kicker Martin Gramatica; quarterback Joey Harrington; defensive tackles Antwan Lake, James Reed and Montavious Stanley; guard Matt Lehr; wide receiver Courtney Roby; running back Aaron Stecker; tackle Zach Strief; and defensive back Torrence Leigh.