WR Maurice Stovall may be ready to break out as he enters his fourth NFL season
Here's something new we're doing on Buccaneers.com this offseason.
Every other weekend, we'll do a quick recap on some of the team's recent news, with a little bit of extra information that wasn't included the first time around. Unless it was a particularly news-thin fortnight, in which case we won't.
That's pretty much it. So let's move right along with a little more info on…
…the development of second-year QB Josh Johnson:
Johnson feels significantly more comfortable at the beginning of his second year in the NFL, and his coaches are seeing the results in his play on the practice field.
Given his lack of experience and the presence of two veteran passers (Luke McCown and Brian Griese) on the depth chart, it would seem that Johnson is a long shot to win the starting job in 2009. Still, he at least feels as if he is a legitimate part of the competition – and hopefully the Buccaneers' long-term plans – after describing his rookie season as a "redshirt' year. Johnson has an intriguing skill set, as evidenced by his 43-1 touchdown-interception ratio and 726 rushing yards as a senior at San Diego in 2007, and the Bucs' coaching staff is helping him apply those skills to the NFL.
For Johnson, however, it's not all about arm strength and foot speed. To eventually win a starting QB job in the NFL, he's also going to have to learn the leadership role that comes along with that position, as is true of all young passers. During the Buccaneers' recent mini-camp, Head Coach Raheem Morris saw both Johnson and McCown make strides in that regard, which is important for a team that needs new leaders to emerge.
"You see it starting to develop with Luke [McCown] and Josh [Johnson]," said Morris. "Everybody's got to learn how to follow those men. There are different ways to lead from different positions when you're on offense and you're on defense, but the quarterback is the leader no matter what. He's got to be that guy when you give the play call, he's got to be that guy when you give the snap count, he's got to be that guy when you get in the huddle. He's just got to be that guy. They're starting to learn a little bit."
Johnson, who turns 23 on May 15, is the sixth-youngest player on the Bucs' roster, senior only to Jeremy Zuttah, Elbert Mack, Dexter Jackson, Kyle Arrington and Geno Hayes. Again, it would be a surprise if Johnson won the starting job as quickly as 2009, but if he did he would be the Bucs' youngest opening-day starter since Shaun King won the job to begin the 2000 season at the age of 23.
…the signing of Kellen Winslow:
On Monday, the Buccaneers signed recently-acquired tight end Kellen Winslow to a new six-year contract, committing long-term to a player they believe can be an elite-level force at his position for years to come.
The Buccaneers had already invested a second-round pick to get Winslow, trading that 2009 selection to the Cleveland Browns on the first day of free agency. The deal ended Winslow's five-year tenure in Cleveland, which included two 80-catch seasons, one Pro Bowl campaign and a few other years lost to injury.
That tenure began in 2004, when he was drafted sixth overall. Later in that same draft, the Browns took McCown, who would also be traded to the Buccaneers, though four years early in a 2005 draft-weekend swap. In their one season together with the Browns, Winslow and McCown became friends, so the Buccaneer passer was thrilled to hear of the trade six weeks ago.
In his recent "Behind the Flag at One Buc Place" video interview for Buccaneers.com, McCown compared Winslow to another breakout star in the NFL…but not one who plays tight end. McCown believes Winslow could have the same type of impact as Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, because both pass-catchers are able to use their size and athleticism to make difficult catches in traffic.
(You can watch McCown's interview by clicking on the Behind the Flag link under Video on the Buccaneers.com home page.)
That's high praise, obviously. Fitzgerald has averaged 92 catches a season since 2005 and was perhaps the single most dominant force in the 2008 playoffs as the Cardinals advanced all the way to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. Few tight ends ever surpass the 90-catch mark – Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez was the only one to do so last year, with 96 – but Winslow certainly appears to be capable. After all, he caught 89 passes with Cleveland in 2006 and another 82 in 2007. His career average of roughly five receptions per game would lead to 80 receptions over a 16-game season, and the Buccaneers would certainly be happy with that total. No Tampa Bay tight end has ever approached that plateau; the team record is 62 catches by Jackie Harris in 1995.
However, when Harris caught those 62 passes in '95, he was easily the team's leader in that category, as nobody else on the team even got to 50. In contrast, the Chiefs were able to pair Gonzalez's 96 catches with 86 by wide receiver Dwayne Bowe last year.
The Bucs might be in a similar position for the first time in team history. Both of the team's expected starting receivers – Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton – have had 80-catch seasons for the Buccaneers, and Bryant was the team leader last year with 83. Could Tampa Bay have two prolific receiving outputs in the same season, as Kansas City did last year or as Arizona gets frequently from Fitzgerald and fellow receiver Anquan Boldin? It would be a rare and welcome occurrence.
The most receptions that two Buccaneer players have ever combined for in a season is 174 in 2001, but that was Keyshawn Johnson's team-record 106-catch season, and his partner was running back Warrick Dunn, with 68. The highest reception total the Bucs' second-leading pass-catcher in any given season has ever had was 76 in 1984 by Kevin House, but he trailed James Wilder (85), another running back. The only time two Buccaneer wide receivers or tight ends have even hit 60 catches in the same season was in 2002, when Johnson had 76 and Keenan McCardell had 61. No Buccaneer WR-TE duo has ever even surpassed 50 catches in the same season; House and Jimmie Giles came closest in 1981 with 56 and 45, respectively.
Obviously, the fact that Winslow, Bryant and Clayton have all had 80-catch seasons for the Buccaneers does not mean that they will do so in 2009. Still, the pieces appear to be in place for the type of passing attack Tampa Bay fans have rarely seen.
…the Bucs' first mini-camp under Raheem Morris:
The Buccaneers opened their mini-camp on Tuesday, March 31, getting together on the practice field under Morris for the first time. Before their morning practice, Morris conducted a team meeting with the 64 men who reported eager and willing for the voluntary camp. Jim Bates, hired by Morris and the Buccaneers to replace Monte Kiffin at defensive coordinator, said Morris' opening address to the players was impressive and uplifting.
As is custom for most coaches as they try to establish a insular, family atmosphere in the locker room, Morris demurred when asked to share the specifics of his speech. However, he did reveal that he is taking a no-holds-barred approach with the players; within the team meeting room, he is willing to share everything with his men, even individual criticism in front of teammates. Morris said he prefers the straightforward and open approach he always used with the defensive backs when he was a position coach.
"Sometimes you've got to hit with straightforward shots," he said. "I gave a couple people some straightforward shots. We're a family. Most people do it in one-on-one settings; I like to do it in a 66-man setting, or an 80-man setting or a 53-man setting, whatever the case may be. Whenever you deliver messages like that and it's to the heart, it's challenging a guy, it's inspiring a guy, it's leading a guy.
"When we had 15 guys in that room and it was all of us in the room, it was straightforward shots. Every man was accountable to each other, so you want to make 66 guys accountable. I don't want anybody to feel embarrassed when we talk amongst family members. When we're at the house sitting around the table we bring up all your dirty laundry, and we've got the ability to do that in those settings with our team."
One of Morris' straight-from-the-heart tactics is to openly challenge players he believes can raise their games by a significant level. That's the case with fourth-year wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who has been hampered by injuries but is one of the team's hardest workers. Stovall has shown flashes of outstanding play in training camp and in a handful of games, and Morris believes that potential can be tapped quite a bit more.
"Maurice Stovall is motivated to be great, so you've got to motivate and stimulate him with the things he can do that are really good, and you've got to make him do those things consistently," said Morris. "That's what I'm trying to do with Maurice Stovall right now. He's one of the guys I'm challenging a little bit and I think he's got a chance to be great. He's got to want it, he's got to believe it and he's got to go do it. That's what we're talking about right now with Mo."