Alabama safety Mark Barron got a Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat and an in-person greeting from team staffers almost immediately after he was drafted last Thursday night. However, Barron's fellow first-round pick, Boise State running back Doug Martin, was at home in Oakland when he heard his name called by the Buccaneers, which led to a rather sudden cross-country red-eye flight.
Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David, Tampa Bay's second-round selection, was in Miami when he got the call. Fifth-rounder Najee Goode, a linebacker from West Virginia, heard the news in his home in Cleveland. Other calls from One Buccaneer Place went out to Nashville, Tucson and Kansas City.
A week ago, the young men who would become the newest Buccaneers were scattered across the nation. Beginning Thursday, they will be together for the first time as the team's new rookie class, along with 17 undrafted free agents and several dozen others in town to try to win a spot on the offseason roster. The Buccaneers will conduct their 2012 rookie mini-camp on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the players were due to arrive in town a day early to take care of all the necessary details, such as physical exams and playbook distribution.
With organized team activity days (OTAs) to follow throughout the rest of May and a full-team mini-camp scheduled for mid-June, the Buccaneers' 2012 draft class will gradually be introduced to the Bay area in the coming weeks, including through some exclusive video segments here on Buccaneers.com. In the meantime, here's a trio of notes regarding several members of that draft class as they prepare for their first real action as Buccaneers.
Fond Memories for Dunsmore
Drake Dunsmore remembers Raymond James Stadium as one of the favorite venues he visited during his Northwestern career, even though he only played there once. In a loss.
Dunsmore and the Wildcats came to Tampa in December of 2009, leading up the 2010 Outback Bowl on January 1. The game, in which Northwestern faced heavily-favored Auburn and sought to record its first bowl victory in 1949, turned into one of the most entertaining outings of that bowl season, with Auburn eventually taking a 38-35 win in overtime.
The overtime period was downright bizarre, featuring a game-ending fumble that was overruled, a field goal try that hit the crossbar but was erased by penalty, an injured Northwestern kicker and – finally and unsuccessfully – an attempted trick play on a fake field goal from the five-yard line by the Wildcats. That was only the capper on a wild afternoon that included a combined 1,050 yards of offense, 625 of them by Northwestern in the losing cause.
Dunsmore accounted for about a 10th of that NU yardage with a 66-yard touchdown on a simple screen pass that tied the game at 21-21 in the third quarter. Obviously, that play, on which he broke several tackles on the way to the end zone, has something to do with his fondness for the Buccaneers' home stadium.
"I love playing at Raymond James," said Dunsmore, who was drafted by Tampa Bay in the seventh round (#233) last weekend. "That was a great game, great weather. I had a lot of fun out in Tampa with my teammates at the Outback Bowl. I'm excited to get back down there and play a few more games there hopefully."
Dunsmore was obviously referring to the entire week his team spent in the Bay area when he praised the weather, as much of the 2010 Outback Bowl was played in a chilly rain. This time, he hopes to stick around long enough to run the full gamut of Tampa weather, including the oppressively humid heat of training camp.
By the time camp rolls around in late July, Dunsmore should have a better idea of how the Buccaneers' offensive staff plans to utilize his skills. At Northwestern, he played something called a "superback," which had him moving all around the offensive formations. Only infrequently did that include lining up at the end of the offensive line and staying there to block defensive ends and linebackers. As an NFL tight end, he will likely be asked to do that more often, and he's looking forward to working on that aspect of his game. He has already added 10 pounds to his frame since the end of Northwestern's 2011 season and plans to play in the NFL at 245.
"I could be that "move" guy like I did at Northwestern, that H-back, playing a little bit of fullback, hopefully lining up a little bit in line," he said, asked to guess what the Bucs' coaches might have in mind for him. But we'll see. We'll see what happens when we get to camp.
"If you turn on the tape of me, you won't see me blocking that much over the last four years. But I'd say I'm an eager blocker. You'll be able to tell that by the way I block as a receiver and a slot guy, and moving and going in motion. But I haven't had the opportunity to block a lot in-line, and that's something I'm really excited to learn from the coaches up there and the tight ends that are already in Tampa. I'm hoping to progress in that department."
Dunsmore hopes he'll get some inkling of what's in store for him during this weekend's mini-camp. What he won't have the chance to do over those first three days at One Buccaneer Place, however, is catch passes from starting quarterback Josh Freeman, a fellow native of the Kansas City area.
That will have to wait until OTAs and the full-team mini-camp in May and July, though the fact that Northwestern's school year is split into trimesters and extends later than most may delay his return to Tampa after this weekend's mini-camp.
"I'm really excited about it," said Dunsmore of working with Freeman. "I haven't had a chance to see him play a lot, but everything I hear is good things. I met him when he was out here in Kansas City, and I'm excited to get to Tampa and start working with him a little bit and see just how great of a quarterback he is."
More Important than Speed
When Michael Smith visited One Buccaneer Place in May during the run-up to the 2012 NFL Draft, he got a tour of the place from coaches who had themselves only occupied the building for a few months. Smith could sense that the environment at Buc headquarters was still new and developing, and that made him eager to get in on the ground floor, should Tampa Bay's obvious interest in him come to fruition on draft weekend.
And indeed it did. The Buccaneers selected the small but fast Utah State back with the first of their two seventh-round picks, number 212 overall.
"I went out to visit them in May," Smith recalled. "I just know they've got a whole new coaching staff, and they loved me. I felt like I gave them a great impression of myself and what I could bring to the team to make them a better team.
"I think it's a great opportunity. It's a whole new coaching staff. I know they got running back Doug Martin from Boise State, and I feel like it's a great opportunity for me to play running back and on special teams and to make an impact in the National Football League as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer."
Smith's assessment is valid, and specific to his own position, as the Buccaneers will definitely have a new look in the offensive backfield this fall. The team began its 2012 offseason with only two tailbacks on the roster – incumbent starter LeGarrette Blount and 2011 undrafted free agent Mossis Madu – so it was clear that additions of some sort would be made. As it turned out, the entire RB corps has been remade; Blount still figures to be a central part of it but Martin, a late-first round pick, will obviously be used extensively as well and there is definitely room for Smith to carve out a role as a third-down, change-of-pace type of runner.
In fact, Smith represents a potential "change of pace" from just about any fellow runner. One of the fastest players available in the draft, he was recently timed at Utah State's Pro Day with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash. He says he once was clocked at 4.26 during a previous year at USU, but even that "slower" time means he's a breakaway threat any time he hits the open field.
That is evidenced by the remarkable average of 7.1 yards per carrier he recorded during his Aggies career, a school record. He did that in a reserve role, backing up Robert Turbin, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Seattle Seahawks last Saturday. However, Smith thinks it is the way he handled that role at Utah State that is his best attribute, even more so than his speed.
"I'm fast, but I feel like my mental toughness [is more important]," he said. "I wasn't the starter when I was at Utah State. I had Robert Turbin right in front of me, and he's a great running back. I just took the opportunities when they gave them to me. I think I showed mental toughness, not getting down on myself, because everything doesn't always go the way you want it to.
"That opportunities came forth and I made the most of them. From special teams to whatever they wanted me to do, I just made myself more valuable so I could help the team in any way."
First-Hand Scouting Report
New NFL draftees are often asked by the media to provide self-scouting reports. What do they do particularly well that is going to help their new teams.
Cornerback Keith Tandy, the Buccaneers' sixth-round pick last weekend, could provide that and more. In addition to his own game, he's got a good feel for what linebacker Najee Goode, Tampa Bay's fifth-round pick can do on the football field. He should, of course. The two were not only fellow defensive captains on the West Virginia squad last year, but also road-game roommates.
Tandy said that, while the scouting reports on his roommate usually focus on Goode's toughness and instincts, observers are going to be pleasantly surprised by his speed.
"One thing people don't realize is how fast he is," said Tandy. "Every time when we'd be running, he'd be right behind me. He can play every position at linebacker for us, like he did this year and has throughout his career. So he can teach the other guys and be a leader in that way."
As for his own game, Tandy seems to agree with the widespread belief that he is especially adept at zone coverage, and offers a little more detail as to why.
"I think one of my main things is reading the quarterback, playing off, in a zone," he said. "And just being real physical with the receivers, because I'm more of a bigger cornerback and I try to use that to my advantage."