Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Looking Ahead

The Bucs’ pro personnel department is preparing for the playoffs by sending scouts to games of possible opponents

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Giants QB Kerry Collins has shown great accuracy on short and intermediate routes this season

All season, the travel path of this Tampa Bay Buccaneers pro personnel scout has been predictable. If the Bucs were set to play Detroit on an upcoming Sunday, the scout would be their a week ahead – or travel to the same city that the Lions were visiting. This was necessary to prepare the 50-page scouting report that the team's coaches are used to receiving.

In recent weeks, however, it has taken two or more Buc representatives to cover the necessary action, as Tampa Bay is simultaneously preparing for its upcoming opponent and getting an advance look at its possible playoff opponents.

That's why you would have found our intrepid scout in Dallas last Sunday, where the New York Giants were visiting with a chance to lock up the NFC East and become the first official division winners in the league. The week before, it was Philadelphia; next Sunday, New Orleans.

New York is in the driver's seat for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and has one of the more balanced squads entering the postseason, ranking fourth on defense and 11th on offense. Here are a few more specific notes gleaned from the fresh perspective of our man on the scene.

· Kerry Collins has solidified the Giants' quarterback situation because he is displaying more poise in the pocket and playing with more confidence than he has in years. He appears to be back in the form that helped the Carolina Panthers reach the NFC Championship Game in Collins' second year. The greatest area of improvement in Collins' game is the short and intermediate passes, on which he has shown great accuracy this year. He has been less effective trying to go downfield. Collins is the classic pocket passer, not much of a threat to run, which makes him somewhat of a throwback quarterback these days. He has always had a good arm, but he is combining that with nice touch on underneath routes this season. · The Giants' offense is based quite a bit on deception. They are 'the kings' of changing formations, putting guys in motion and constantly shifting personnel, said our scout. The purpose of all of this motion is to confuse defenses. The Giants want to get the opposing defense into a misalignment, and they are asking Collins to find that weakness during his pre-snap read and exploit it. · Some of the same things can be said about the New York defense, which is very aggressive but also likes to change packages and run different personnel on and off the field. The Giants are also heavy blitzers, most often bringing a safety-linebacker combination. · It's fairly obvious that the Giants have made Barber the featured back in their system, Thunder and Lightning nicknames notwithstanding. According to our scout, you are most likely to see rookie Ron Dayne employed in short-yardage situations or on early first downs. Barber is easier for the Giants' staff to utilize because he has superior speed and better hands. The Giants' running game is succeeded in large part because they are getting much more consistent play out of their offensive line. The most noticeable area of improvement on that front wall has been at right tackle, where second-year player Luke Petitgout has really settled in after having less success at guard last year. Petitgout is not necessarily a Pro Bowl-type player, but he is solid and consistent, which, said our scout, is all you really need on the right side – someone you can trust. He has great size, is a solid athlete and is smart enough not to make many mistakes on the field. · The biggest surprise to our scout, from a negative standpoint, has been the fairly limited use the Giants have found for TE Pete Mitchell this season. Mitchell was signed by the Giants to a fairly large contract, but he has just 24 receptions and one touchdown. Blocking is not Mitchell's strongest area, and the Giants have really emphasized the running game this year, using Howard Cross for most of those blocking duties. Punter Brad Maynard, who was outstanding in 1999, has also had a bit of a down year. · In our scout's opinion, the single greatest improve the Giants made on defense in 2000 was the import of middle linebacker Michael Barrow. Barrow, who left the Panthers to come to New York, was an addition in the vein of the Buccaneers' signing of Hardy Nickerson in 1993. He has completely taken over the middle of the Giants' defense and has quickly emerged as a team leader. It's important, said our scout, to have a player the team can trust in the middle of the defense, and Barrow is that player. It is also not surprising to the Buc representative that the Panthers' defense, which let Barrow go but gave big contracts to defensive linemen Reggie White and Eric Swann, has since declined.

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