Gaines Adams was the first defensive player off the board in the entire draft, setting the tone for the Bucs' efforts on Saturday
Would the offensive-minded Jon Gruden ever have predicted his team would exercise three of their first four picks in the 2007 NFL Draft on defensive players? We'll never know. But after effectively addressing needs on every level of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense with those picks, there was one emotion radiating from the Bucs' head coach that couldn't be mistaken: excitement.
The excitement, Gruden explained, comes from knowing that by the close of Day One of the draft, the Buccaneers had come away with four quality players, three of whom have the potential to develop into exceptional defensive players.
"It's a good and exciting time upstairs, especially for the defensive guys," Gruden said. "They got three guys – a pass rusher who can be great, a safety man who's a playmaker who will certainly help us and a linebacker who can do a lot of things for us on any down."
The defensive influx, of course, began with the Buccaneers' very first pick of the draft, Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams. The Buccaneers kicked off their draft with a bang, adding to their ranks a player widely considered to be the best pass-rusher in the entire draft.
"We're excited to have selected Gaines Adams," Gruden said. "We said earlier, as the offseason began, that we wanted to upgrade our pass rush. We feel like we did that today. He is a fine football player. We're eager to put him in our colors and get him started. He's a good football player with a chance to be great, and it certainly addresses an area that we want to improve at."
Adding a player of Adams' caliber should help the Buccaneers defense get back on track after slumping last season and finishing out of the top 10 for the first time in a decade. Bucs coaches believe much of unit's struggles were rooted in an inability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Adams should change that.
But as gratifying as it was to nab Adams, Bucs coaches and personnel executives were far from done addressing the defense.
Taking advantage of the team's later second-round pick, the Buccaneers pulled the trigger on Oregon State safety Sabby Piscitelli, a ball-hawking safety who the Bucs were honestly elated to find still available.
The 6-3, 225-pound Piscitelli started 36 games at OSU, racking up 178 tackles and 29 passes defensed to go with 15 career interceptions – second most ever at Oregon State. As a senior last fall, he started all 12 games and posted 64 tackles, five interceptions and 12 passes defensed.
"There's a lot of upside [to him]," Gruden said. "He's Pac-10 All-Conference. Watching him against USC, the number one-team in the country – Oregon State beat them this year and he was a big reason why. The guy played tremendous football in key situations.
"He will hit you. He seems to enjoy it, and he plays the game with speed. They do a lot of things at Oregon State, a credit to their defensive scheme; they have a system that he's handled well. He's been a physical tackler, and he's intercepted and recovered a lot of balls. He's an opportunistic guy that we need back there."
Four picks later, the Bucs commitment to reloading on defense continued, as they selected New Mexico linebacker Quincy Black.
A sideline-to-sideline defender, the 6-2, 240-pound Black started all 13 games as a senior and racked up 114 tackles, one sack, four passes defensed and three interceptions, playing in a rather unique defensive scheme.
"People refer to [it] as the "Urlacher Scheme," where he's kind of a robber playing in a semi-deep middle linebacker position or shallow free safety position," Gruden explained. "They allowed him to run sideline to sideline and make plays. It's not a defense that's conventional in terms of other teams running it. It's the same position Brian [Urlacher] played when he was at New Mexico, and it worked out okay for him. But [Black] is accustomed to playing a little bit deeper than a linebacker normally does and a little bit shallower than a normal free safety does. They try to use his speed to get sideline to sideline and make plays, and he does a pretty good job of that."
To find success in such a scheme, a linebacker must possess athleticism and speed – two traits the Bucs have long valued in their linebackers. Such a combination also allows Black a versatility that has the Bucs excited and eager to see him in action.
"We're not quite sure where he'll line up yet, but we will get him started this upcoming weekend at our mini camp," Gruden said. "He can rush the passer as a blitzer. He's a guy who has played in space and been very effective at times, and we got a very fast, explosive athlete who will be a linebacker for us.
"Whether he starts off at "Will" or as the "Sam" linebacker, technically, remains to be seen. But we'll let him run around in our first mini camp this upcoming weekend and get a real good feel for him, and what looks good, what feels good and go from there. But he'll be on the field doing some things for us. He's an exciting guy. You're going to like the way he runs around and hits, and we need it.
"He's a great kid. He wants to be here and he wants to be a football player. With his traits and his overall athletic ability, we're going to be hard-pressed not to put him on a field."
The same could be said for each of the Bucs newest defenders. Not bad for a day's work (or a year's, in the case of a scout).