Texas QB Chris Simms' addition gives the Bucs six passers, but that number could change before training camp
The 2003 NFL Draft is in the books. What did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come away with?
The strictly literal answer is three offensive linemen, one defensive linemen, one quarterback and one cornerback. The more detailed reply is: depth, competition and a possible shot in the arm for the future.
Realistically, given the depth of the team's roster and the positions that were targeted in the draft, the Bucs can probably expect the most immediate contributions from second-round DE Dewayne White, who could join the defensive line rotation as a rookie, and sixth-round CB Torrie Cox, who may find a way to help on special teams. In between, Tampa Bay snared four players at positions that frequently don't have a lot of rookie impact: third-round QB Chris Simms and offensive linemen Lance Nimmo (fourth round), Austin King (fourth round) and Sean Mahan (fifth round).
However, Head Coach Jon Gruden believes all six could be important parts of the Bucs' future.
"They can all make the team," said Gruden. "They are all going to be given an opportunity to make this football team. I think Chris Simms has a lot to learn, obviously. He is way behind, but he is a very talented guy. The same with Dewayne White. There are a lot of good, healthy and physical football players in that (meeting) room where he's headed. But we expect him to compete, roll up his fist and find a way on this roster.
"The three offensive linemen I think all realize that we have some opportunities available to them. Their execution, their versatility and their physical-ness is going to have a lot to say with who ultimately makes this team. (CB) Torrie Cox and some of these free agents that we sign after the draft will all be treated the same. It's going to be exciting."
While Tampa Bay stuck to a 'best-available-player' strategy on the first day with White and Simms, the Bucs did admit to taking a little harder look at the offensive front on day two. When higher-rated players on the O-line remained on the team's draft board into the fifth round, the Bucs indulged themselves with a surprising run of three straight blockers.
"We felt like we had not put enough ammunition in the position in a number of years," said McKay. "So in essence we picked one at every position; a center, a tackle and a guard. Can they come in and contribute and compete this year? It will not be easy, but I think that (Offensive Line Coach) Bill Muir is pretty motivated."
Added Gruden: "These are guys that are going to give us legitimate competition and also bolster our depth and our versatility."
The Bucs were not particularly in need of depth at quarterback, but they couldn't pass on Simms after he surprisingly dropped to the end of the first day. Tampa Bay had already pumped their quarterback roster up to five players with the March signings of veterans Shane Matthews and Jim Miller, obviously not expecting to be enticed by an available passer this weekend. Now, it's likely that the Bucs will have to make additional moves with their half-dozen quarterbacks, a group that also includes starter Brad Johnson and backups Shaun King and Greg Zolman.
"I think with five preseason games, this will help us look at what I believe is a very unique competition at quarterback," said Gruden, who hadn't yet determined how many of those six will be taken to training camp. "I don't have a perfect number. We are going to work hard to get one guy ready to play. That's a hard enough job as it is. Historically on the team's I've been on, we've normally taken four guys to training camp. There is a good chance that that is the number we take to Orlando this summer as well."
Two areas the Bucs were expected to address were linebacker and cornerback, particularly if the plan to move CB Dwight Smith to safety is realized. They found their corner in Cox in the sixth round but never did pick up an extra linebacker.
"We wanted to come away with one cornerback that could help us in special teams, and that was Torrie Cox," said Gruden. "We wanted to get one linebacker and we looked for a place to do it in the fourth and fifth rounds but just couldn't make it happen. We felt like we were better off waiting for free agency and even eventually going back and looking at the free agent market for those types of players as June rolls around. In supplementing the special teams area we still might do a little more work.
"We're not done. We are going to continue to probe free agency and see what occurs on June 1. In the meantime, we are going to try to develop some of these young players we have talked about and hopefully lure a free agent or two here between now and mini camp next week."
The draft additions, particularly at quarterback and offensive line, two positions the Bucs also addressed during free agency, should make for some very interesting competition come summer.
"That's how it was last year, and that's something that we are going to try to achieve every summer as we head into training camp," said Gruden. "You never have enough depth. What we have on paper is one thing. What we see between the lines in terms of execution is another. Competition is a great motivator and often times does bring out the best in these players, and we hope that is the case this summer."
More from Rich McKay on the 2003 NFL Draft
On whether the new offensive linemen can compete for jobs in 2003: "We emphasized smart, so you are not going to have any issues on picking it up pretty quickly. They will have a chance from that perspective, but we do have some veterans that have played here and played well for us, so it will be hard for them to crack the lineup. That was a position we felt we needed to add some youth to so Bill (Muir) has a chance to develop them. If they help us this year, great, if not they will be there for us downstream."
On how CB Torrie Cox fits into the Bucs' defensive scheme: "He's our type of corner in the sense that he is a quick guy, has very good ball skills, is a tough kid, contributed on special teams there and looks like he would be a very good special teams player. That was kind of our thought on the player. At corner for us, we are not as concerned with size as we are with toughness and tackling ability and ball awareness, which he has. And, we had to pick a player that could contribute on special teams, so he kind of fit that pick at that time."
On whether Cox will be used a kickoff returner, as he was at Pittsburgh: "We didn't draft him for that. He's done it, but we did not draft him for that. We'll give him that chance. We can, potentially, downstream in a month or two. We could add somebody else if we are not comfortable where that is, but right now we are comfortable and have enough guys who can compete for the returner position. We don't have anybody that will do both, but he'll get a chance."
On the importance of next week's minicamp: "I think the mini camps were more important last year than they will be this year. Last year was a get-to-know opportunity for Jon (Gruden) and his new offensive staff with our guys. Plus, we brought in a lot of new guys. This year, while we have brought in a lot of new players, we still have a lot of returning starters back. I think there is less to get to know. It will be an interesting mini camp because (QB) Chris Simms will make it interesting for watching what he brings to the table and his athletic ability. It will be good to see how those offensive lineman react to what we throw at them, which will be a lot."
More from Jon Gruden on the 2003 NFL Draft
On fifth-round G Sean Mahan of Notre Dame: "We are going to start him off at left guard. He's going to be a versatile guy. All three of these (drafted offensive linemen) are very intelligent football players and are reliable, heady types that will compete. I think Mahan can also be a center if we asked him to, and I know he can play either side. But we will pencil him in at this time at left guard."
On the status of the Buccaneers' veteran offensive tackles following the draft: "Some things have changed. We've added some players, particularly inside, and we expect (offensive tackle) Kenyatta Walker to continue to improve as a right tackle. Cornell Green is still a young guy. Those are two young guys at the right tackle position we expect to continue to improve and compete with each other. Roman Oben returns as the incumbent starter at left tackle, and hopefully Lance Nimmo can compete with him."
On the upcoming mini camp: "We've been working hard and are really proud, really pleased with the offseason program. We've had just about 50-55 guys a day in our building working out. It's been a very positive sign. We're off to a very good start. Now we've got work to do with our young players."