DE Kyle Moore was one of the keys to USC's outstanding defensive success in 2008
The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted a defensive end, before this past weekend, that man was the very first defensive player of the board. The Buccaneers picked Clemson's Gaines Adams with the fourth overall pick in 2007, after one quarterback, one receiver and one offensive tackle had been chosen.
When the Buccaneers next picked an end – USC's Kyle Moore in the fourth round on Sunday – he was the sixth defensive player drafted…off his own team.
You will not be surprised to learn that the Trojans' defense finished second in the nation in yards allowed in 2008 and first in scoring allowed, holding opponents to a mere nine points per game. The unit was best known for its rangy, playmaking linebackers, three of whom appeared together on the cover of Sports Illustrated shortly before the draft.
And indeed, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga, the SI cover subjects, were all off the board by pick #38. Defensive tackle Fili Moala followed a half-round later and yet another USC linebacker, Kaluka Maiava, was taken near the top of the fourth round.
Finally, 17 picks into Round Four, it was Moore's turn. The Buccaneers had been eyeing Moore since before the draft and actually traded a seventh-round pick to Dallas in order to move up three spots and ensure that they got him. Moore knew Tampa Bay was interested, but he also felt a little lost in the shuffle with all the USC defenders.
"I led the team in sacks and some other things as well," said Moore. "With all the great players I had around me as a defense, I kind of felt I was overshadowed. So that's why I tried to do my best in the Senior Bowl, in Pro Day, in the Combine so somebody would come see me and thank God Tampa Bay did."
Moore did in fact have a USC-best five quarterback sacks last fall, despite the fact that he was often asked to occupy blockers to create lanes for all those blitz-happy linebackers. And he was far from a one-dimensional pass-rusher; the Buccaneers believe he may emerge as an end-tackle swingman who can rush the passer from inside on passing downs.
Moore was also voted USC's "Most Inspirational Player" last year, so he obviously has a very good relationship with his former Trojan teammates. He didn't sound at all bitter about being overshadowed; it was simply a statement of fact. Now, however, Cushing is in Houston, Maualuga's in Cincinnati and Moore has just one team to impress over the next four months, not three. The Buccaneers plan to put him into the battle for the starting left end spot, which was held down by Kevin Carter in 2008.
"In our defense at USC, we played strong call so I played left and right," he said. "It really doesn't matter what position I play on the field in Tampa Bay. Wherever they want me to play that's where I'll play at. It's great to be a Buccaneer right now."
Adams, who had 12.5 sacks as a Clemson senior in 2006, was a starter by midway through his rookie season in Tampa. Moore, even while leading the team, had "just" those five sacks, but that was more about the competition to make plays on USC's star-studded defense.
"That's why the production wasn't that high, because everybody was trying to get to that play," said Moore. "Everybody was trying to make plays. We have so many great players on our defense you had to make your plays when you did because if you didn't make it, there was somebody right behind you to make it. That's why our defense pretty much works."
The Buccaneers will be perfectly happy if Moore brings that same approach to the NFL – hustling to the football on every play has long been a trademark of Tampa Bay's proud defense. If the rookie can earn a significant role on the Bucs' new-look defense in 2009, he won't have to worry about a lack of attention.
Number Five in Your Program
Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman, who wore jersey #1 during his three years at Kansas State, has chosen to make a new start in the NFL. On Tuesday, he and his new team made it official: Freeman will wear #5 as a Buccaneer.
Freeman will have an opportunity to make his mark on that number, in terms of Buccaneer history. The #5 jersey has been worn by several successful Bucs before, but mostly in the punting and placekicking realm. Frank Garcia, the team's punter from 1983-87, wore it for 86 games, and kicker Michael Husted, the second-leading scorer in franchise annals, locked it up from 1993-98. Two additional punters (Larry Swider, Chris Mohr) and two additional kickers (Brian Clark and Mirro Roder) also briefly wore #5, as did wide receiver Courtney Hawkins for five games in 1992 before the NFL took notice and said, 'No, sir.' Hawkins switched to 85 for the rest of his Buc career.
As for quarterbacks, the only Buccaneers to wear #5 before Freeman were Terry Hanratty for four forgettable games in 1976 and Bruce Gradkowski in 2007. Gradkowski had worn #7 while starting 11 games as a rookie in 2006 but gave that number to Jeff Garcia in 2007 and switched to five, though he would start no more games in Tampa.
The decision to match Freeman with #5 led kicker Mike Nugent, who was given that number when he arrived as an unrestricted free agent in March, to switch to #4. The Buccaneers also switched wide receiver Paris Warren from #1 to #83.
Tampa Bay's other five draft choices also have their uniform numbers now. Third-round defensive tackle Roy Miller will be #93, and fellow rookie lineman Kyle Moore will be #94. Fifth-round tackle Xavier Fulton drew jersey #68 while seventh-round cornerback E.J. Biggers will don #31. And seventh-round wide receiver Sammy Stroughter will begin his NFL career as #18.
The Draft Holds Interest
The NFL Draft – as much a part of the spring sports landscape as MLB's opening day, the Masters and the Kentucky Derby – isn't getting any smaller.
Two years ago, a record 38 million viewers tuned in to draft coverage on NFL Network, ESPN and ESPN2. This year's draft topped even that, drawing 39 million NFL addicts. Over the past nine years, interest in the draft, which has never been slight, has burgeoned 66%, when measured in viewers to those telecasts. A total of 23.5 million people tuned in to the 2001 NFL Draft.
The first round of the draft was the weekend's biggest sports spectacle, actually. That drew more eyeballs than the Yankees-Red Sox games on Saturday and Sunday and all NBA and NHL playoff games.