S John Lynch, a USA Today All-Pro choice, was called the 'big banger' of the Bucs' defense
Graduating collegiate stars aren't the only people hoping to make an impression during Senior Bowl week. Beyond the primary purpose of NFL teams scouting and interviewing potential draftees, there is a sub-level of activity that is present every January in Mobile, Alabama.
Because virtually every NFL coaching staff and upper management is represented in some way or another at the Senior Bowl, the week also has become a popular destination for coaches who are currently between jobs. These professionals hope to use the week to network with teams that might be looking to fill a vacancy or two.
As it turns out, the Buccaneers are in that category this year. Tampa Bay is potentially in the market for an offensive coordinator, a linebackers coach and an offensive assistant. If Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs Coach Herm Edwards is tabbed for the head coaching job with the New York Jets, then another position will open up on the Bucs' staff. If any of these positions are filled from within, there could conceivably be openings of different varieties.
Still, Tampa Bay General Manager Rich McKay doesn't see the Senior Bowl week as a key element in the Bucs' employee search.
"I wouldn't say it's a very helpful week," said McKay. "It's helpful in the sense that you get to talk to a lot of people. You form better lists of who is out there and who isn't out there. But it's a depressing week from that standpoint also, in the sense that there are always a lot of guys who are recently out of jobs. They are very much walking around and looking to talk to you, and it's kind of a depressing sight from that standpoint."
That doesn't keep the coaching rumors from flying around Mobile. As far as Edwards is concerned, the thought in Alabama is that he may know by the end of Wednesday whether he will be headed to New York.
The Bucs' December showdown with the St. Louis Rams was every bit the exciting contest it was billed to be, but it was not, as many expected at the beginning of the season, a preview of the NFC Championship Game.
Instead, both the Bucs and Rams lost road games in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the upstart New Orleans Saints, the team that edged St. Louis for the NFC West title, advanced to the Divisional Round by defeating St. Louis in the opening weekend.
That combination of events will result in the Buccaneers moving up one slot in April's NFL draft, from 22nd to 21st. St. Louis also moves up a notch in front of Tampa Bay, from 21st to 20th. New Orleans drops from its original 20th spot to 23rd, behind the Rams, Bucs and Indianapolis Colts. Each of those four teams finished the regular season with 10-6 records but only the Saints advanced beyond the Wild Card Round in the playoffs.
The NFL's annual draft order is determined by reverse ranking of the 31 teams' records, which gives the 1-15 San Diego Chargers the first pick. Any teams that end up with the same record are in a tied 'segment' and their rankings within that segment are then determined by their opponents' combined win-loss record. The rationale: A team that finished 10-6 against a schedule that finished with a .600 winning percentage is stronger than a team that finished 10-6 against a schedule that finished with a .400 record. Thus, the team that played against the worse schedule gets the earlier pick.
However, playoff advancement also affects the order. Teams in tied segments near the bottom can be reshuffled as some advance through the postseason and others don't. A team does not drop out of its segment, however, unless it participates in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl champion selects 31st, or last, and the runner-up selects 30th.
The same procedure caused Minnesota to drop one spot behind Miami, from 26th down to 27th. Barring a trade, the Bucs' selection will not move up any higher.
Speaking of strength of schedule, there is a good reason why the Buccaneers usually enter a season with what is considered one of the league's toughest slates of opponents.
The NFC Central Division, which the Buccaneers won in 1999 and narrowly missed defending in 2000, has emerged as perhaps the league's most consistently difficult group.
The NFC Central is the only one of the NFL's six divisions to have placed at least one team in a conference championship every year since 1995. The division can thank Green Bay for starting that run, as the Packers made the championship game for three years running from '95 through '97, advancing to Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII.
However, the Bucs and Vikings have extended that streak. The Vikings faced Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game after the 1998 season, then made it back this year against the Giants. In between, it was Tampa Bay that took on St. Louis in last year's championship game.
The division that has placed the fewest teams in a conference championship game over that six-year span is the NFC East, with two. However, both of those teams – Dallas after the 1995 season and the New York Giants this year – then advanced to the Super Bowl.
Only the Ravens and Giants play on, but other stars from around the NFL continue to appear in the news as various agencies and publications assign awards and announce all-star teams.
The latest NFL All-Pro team was announced on Wednesday courtesy of USA Today, and two Buccaneers were included on that rather exclusive squad. With long-time NFL analyst Gordon Forbes providing the analysis, USA Today named just one player at each starting spot (one quarterback, two cornerbacks, etc.).
Warren Sapp, who finished tied for second with 16.5 sacks, was Forbes' choice at defensive tackle, along with New Orleans' La'Roi Glover, who led the NFL with 17 sacks. John Lynch was also tabbed along with Green Bay's Darren Sharper to fill the two safety slots.
Not chosen from the Buccaneers was AP All-Pro outside linebacker Derrick Brooks. Though Forbes mentioned the difficulty in the decision, USA Today went with Jessie Armstead of the Giants and Jason Gildon of the Pittsburgh Steelers.