Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Answer Man, Series 6, Volume 12

In his last offering before the start of training camp and the 2010 season, the Bucs' man on the inside takes on such topics as position conversions, overtime turnovers, Connor Barth and more

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Since this is supposed to be an abbreviated version of my often unwieldy columns - that's the new format during the busy NFL season, in case you missed last week's announcement - let's do away with the usual intro and just print some of your feedback to my most recent attempts.

When I printed a list of Buccaneer player nicknames through the years two columns ago, I mostly focused on individuals like Vince "Pookie" Workman and Richard "Batman" Wood. However, I also mentioned the old handle for the Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, "Thunder & Lightning," and a couple of you correctly pointed out that the more popular nickname for those two was "WD40." Good point, Wil the Brewer of Evergreen Park, Illinois and Matthew LeVine of Seminole, Florida.

Matthew also claims that Jon Gruden used to refer to John Lynch as "General Schwarzkopf." If that's true, I'm embarrassed to admit that the Answer Man doesn't remember that one. I do remember - and I forgot to put this on that previous list - that Monte Kiffin referred to Lynch as "The Closer," after the safety showed a propensity for making the big game-clinching takeaway in the closing minutes.

Bill of Sarasota took mild issue (in a very nice way) with another list in that same column. Well, two lists. A reader wanted me to provide a list of 10 players whose careers had improved after they left the Buccaneers and I agreed only if I were allowed to counter with a list of 10 players whose careers improved after they arrived in Tampa. My point was that this sort of player evolution takes place everywhere in the NFL, all the time.

Bill said he disagreed with some of the players on my first list (ones who got away) but didn't really get specific as to whom. I think he might have been referring to Kelly Holcomb and Russ Hochstein. True, they were mostly reserves after they left, but my point was that few would have guessed either guy would even stick in the NFL for long after their very brief cameos in Tampa. I guess I was trying to balance out the list with different sorts of circumstances, not all Vinny Testaverde/Steve Young types. Anyway, like I said, Bill was mostly complimentary in his note, so I think we can just consider that a mild disagreement.

Bill also thought I should have included Warrick Dunn on the ones-that-got-away list. I have to admit that I considered it, but I thought he was just a special case. He didn't flounder here and then flower elsewhere. Dunn was great for the Bucs, he was great for Atlanta, and then he was good one more time in Tampa before retiring. I was kind of avoiding players who were established stars in Tampa before leaving (a la The Closer).

Also falling into the category of readers who took me to task but were also very nice about it is Mike Daniher of "sunny Santa Clara," California. Mike had asked if the Bucs would ever wear a white throwback jersey after unveiling orange ones last year. My basic answer: I'd never say never, but when you're talking about probably one game a year, it's hard to pass up the opportunity to wear those amazing orange jerseys. Teams generally wear the colored jerseys at home (baring hot games like the Bucs have in the first half of the season) for a reason.

Mike's response is that people would very much like the white throwbacks and would want to get their hands on replicas. He may be personally motivated by the fact that he previously had an old white Bucs jersey but lost it and can't find much Tampa Bay gear in Northern California. But fair enough. Point taken.

Now, on to your questions.

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  1. Andrew Schreffler of Plant City, Florida asks:

Hello again Answer Man! I would like to thank you for breaking down the "Brady Rule" for me a few columns back. It was harshly fair but I swallowed a pride pill and agree with your assessment. My name isn't a typo by the way! I, like you, have seen many Schefflers so I can understand your questioning the spelling. Enough rambling, on to my question! I was recently watching a video on this website entitled, "Happy 4th of July." At around 23 seconds into the video, corner Myron Lewis was shown answering an interview question but was incorrectly labeled, as I am sure he hasn't pulled a Devin Hester and converted to Wide Receiver. It's a small oversight that I am sure most Bucs fans could easily overlook but it got me thinking. I know former Buc Jermaine Phillips attempted a safety-to-outside-LB conversion and was apparently doing very well before being halted by a broken thumb. So I would like to know, who are the most successful position converts for the Bucs? And the NFL? Are teams allowed to make a position conversion at any time and as many times as they wish? Again, I spent 5 minutes on the Google interweb machine and quickly lost all patience and decided to leave it to the expert. Thanks Answer Man!

Answer Man: In case you didn't catch the column to which Andrew refers, we discussed the Terrell Suggs dive at Tom Brady last year that earned Suggs a penalty. Andrew thought Brady had lobbied for the call and was getting star treatment; I looked at the clip and disagreed. Also, I wondered aloud (well, in print, I guess) if "Schreffler" was a misprint, but it was not. So this one ended up being a two-way street of information, which I appreciate.

Thus, I'll give Andrew another appearance. The last one was way back in April, so I guess it's been long enough. Really, I just like his question.

To correct one small piece of the Jermaine Phillips timeline described above, it wasn't the thumb injury that halted last year's potential safety-to-linebacker conversion. Two factors led to the experiment in the first place: Sabby Piscitelli's emergence near the end of 2008 and the release of long-time weakside linebacker starter Derrick Brooks in February of 2009. Hard-hitting and, with just a few more pounds packed on, essentially the same size as most players the Bucs plug into that position, Phillips was seen as a possible force at outside linebacker. At the least, he would be in the competition for the starting job. However, the Bucs found out in August that Tanard Jackson would miss the first four games of the season and that prompted them to push Phillips back to safety. Phillips then fractured his thumb in the second game of the season and was moved to injured reserve.

As for the most successful position conversion in Bucs history, with apologies to Dwight Smith, Tom McHale and a few others, I would say it's a tie between Charley Hannah and Harry Swayne. Both made the same switch, from defensive lineman to offensive tackle, both after they arrived in the NFL, and both turned their new positions into long professional careers.

Hannah was drafted by the Buccaneers as a defensive end out of Alabama in the third round in 1977. He played two seasons on defense, even starting 14 games at left end in 1978, his second year with the team. Then, prior to the 1979 season, Hannah converted to offense and, boom, just like that he was the Bucs' starting right tackle. Swayne was part of the '79 offensive line that allowed just 12 sacks as the Bucs stunningly won the NFC Central and advanced to the conference title game. In July of 1983, Hannah was traded to the L.A. Raiders for DE Dave Browning (who never played a game for Tampa Bay) and the 1984 fourth-round pick that eventually produced Ron Heller. Hannah would go on to play six more seasons for the Raiders, even helping them win Super Bowl XVIII as the starting left guard. Perhaps it should be no surprise that Charley Hannah would make a good offensive lineman; his father Herb made it to the NFL as a tackle with the New York Giants in 1951 after starring at Alabama. Both of Charley's brothers, John and David, also were standout offensive linemen for the Crimson Tide, and chances are you've heard of John Hannah. He went on to play 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

Swayne came to the Buccaneers as part of their gigantic 1987 draft class, the same one that produced Vinny Testaverde, Ricky Reynolds, Winston Moss, Don Smith (who we'll discuss before this question is through), Mark Carrier, Ron Hall, Bruce Hill, Curt Jarvis, Mike Shula and 10 others. At the time, he was a defensive end coming out of Rutgers where, as some florid co-author of the Bucs' 1987 media guide said he had been "bedeviled" by injuries. He'd had five sacks the season before and was considered Rutgers' best pass-rusher. Head Coach Ray Perkins, also in his first season with the Bucs, suggested a position switch to Swayne that very first year but Swayne didn't agree to it until the 1989 offseason, after he had continued to struggle with injuries for two years. He'd started three games at defensive end in 1987 and 1988 but hadn't made too big of an impact. As it turned out, the move would never vault Swayne into the Bucs' starting offense, as it had Hannah, but the Chargers, Broncos and Ravens can still thank Perkins for convincing Swayne to move. Swayne would go on to play six seasons in San Diego, two in Denver and two in Baltimore, and in each location he would end up starting in a Super Bowl. Only a handful of players have started Super Bowls for three different teams. In all, Swayne would go on to play 142 games and start 107 on the offensive line after leaving Tampa.

You'll find more examples listed below, but let's jump ahead to the rest of your question, first. Yes, a player can switch positions as often as he likes. You could send your placekicker in to play quarterback in the middle of a game if you wanted to. As an example, the Bucs occasionally put safety Curtis Buckley (really, he was a special teams ace and a safety only by name) in at wide receiver in 1993 and 1994 because he was such an aggressive blocker. Buckley even started two games at receiver in '93 just so he could crack down on the safety on a game-opening running play. Sam Wyche didn't make a lot of friends with that maneuver, actually.

Quarterback Craig Erickson started a game at wide receiver, too. When Trent Dilfer made his first NFL start during his rookie year in 1994, at San Francisco, Wyche got tricky by putting Erickson in as one of the receivers and splitting him wide. I know that wasn't really a position "conversion" for Erickson, but the point is that a team can put any player in at any position if it wants to.

The only issue is jersey numbers. On any given play, the 11-man offense has six "eligible" players who can take a handoff or catch a pass, including the quarterback. The offensive linemen are not eligible. Part of the reason the NFL requires players at certain positions to have jersey numbers in certain ranges (50-79 for offensive linemen, 11-19 and 80-89 for receivers, etc.) is so that it's easy to spot who the eligible players are. If a player with a non-eligible number (say, 73) comes in at an eligible position (say, tight end) he must report to the referee before every play that he is eligible. You've probably heard this during NFL game broadcasts many times when a team brings in a sixth offensive lineman on a short-yardage play.

That's how you handle a player playing out of position in a game under progress. If the player makes a permanent (or long-term) switch, then he may be required to change his number. You can sometimes get around this, though. For instance, Chicago's Devin Hester entered the league in 2006 as, nominally, a cornerback, though his primary talent was obviously returning kickoffs. He had been a jack-of-all-trades at the University of Miami, starting games at cornerback, running back and fullback and also seeing time at wide receiver. The Bears gave him jersey number 23, common for a cornerback, but eventually decided his best position was receiver. Hester still wears #23, which is a number that running backs can choose, so it's not really confusing that he's an eligible player.

Got it? Okay, here's a look at a few other players in Bucs history who have switched positions along the way:

  • Dwight Smith - Drafted as a cornerback in 2001, Smith first cracked the lineup (not as a starter, officially) as the primary nickel back in 2002. Perhaps you recall Smith's finest moments in this role, when he became the only player ever to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the Super Bowl in January of 2003. That was cool. Smith lost out on Super Bowl MVP honors to Dexter Jackson, the free safety who had two game-turning interceptions in the first half, but then took over Jackson's job the very next season. Jackson left for Arizona as a free agent and the Bucs, wanting to get Smith's playmaking ability on the field for more snaps, switched him to safety. He played that position well for the Bucs for two seasons, then went on to play for New Orleans (2005), Minnesota (2006-07) and Detroit (2008).
  • Dana Nafziger, Nafziger came in as a tight end in 1977, signing as an undrafted free agent, and then switched to linebacker in 1978. He started 10 games at tight end as a rookie and caught nine passes for 119 yards, then played four more seasons in Tampa (plus one on I.R.) as a reserve linebacker. He started three games at his new position but was primarily a strong special teamer, one of the best in team history, in fact. Truth is, the Bucs' scouts had projected him to be a linebacker when he first signed in '77 (after playing tight end at Cal Poly SLO) but the team had a shortage at tight end that first season and the conversion had to wait.
  • Gene Sanders - The Bucs stole Sanders in the eighth round in 1979 after he had played defensive tackle at Texas A&M. Sanders stayed on defense as a rookie but saw only occasional action. In 1980, he switched to the offensive line and started three games at guard but was limited by a wrist injury. The switch finally paid off in 1981 when he spent the season as the Bucs' starter at left tackle.
  • Don Smith - Another member of that huge 1987 draft class, Smith was actually a prolific quarterback as a collegian at Mississippi State. The Bucs saw the 5-11, 200-pound athlete as a running back but had to wait a year to see if they were right because he suffered a broken leg in the 1987 preseason and then a herniated disc while lifting weights. When he finally got a chance to play in 1988, Smith started out as a back but gradually made the transition to wide receiver, even starting two games at that spot. He would play just two seasons with the Bucs, however, catching 19 passes for 248 yards and rushing 20 times for 83 yards. The Bucs have experience with a couple other players who went from college quarterback to NFL wide receiver, including Bert Emanuel and Micheal Spurlock.
  • Chidi Ahanotu and Marcus Jones - It's not really a position conversion when a defensive lineman plays a little bit of end and a little bit of tackle. However, you might consider it a valid part of this list when a player comes in known specifically as a DT and eventually switches solely to DE, or vice versa. That was the case for both Ahanotu and Jones. Ahanotu came in as a tackle and was a valuable reserve at that position in his rookie season, but he moved to end in 1994 and ended up becoming a long-time starter for the Bucs on the left end. As noted in a Buccaneers.com story earlier this week, Jones was a first-round pick as a DT in 1996 but he struggled for three years to find his way before being converted to an end in 1999. Over the next two seasons at that spot, Jones racked up 20.5 sacks after getting just one in three years on the inside.
  • Tom McHale - McHale went undrafted out of Cornell in 1987 but signed with the Bucs as a free agent. His rookie season was marred by injuries but when he got in at was at his college position of defensive end (he was the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year in 1986). Before the 1988 campaign, McHale was convinced to switch to offensive tackle, where he served primarily as a reserve. He was still a tackle when the 1989 season began but then moved to guard due to a rash of injuries at that spot. It was at guard that McHale ended up making his 30 starts as a Buccaneer.
  • George Yarno, John Lynch - For one game each, these two converted from their normal positions to...kicker! Well, okay, not really. But Yarno kicked an extra point in one game when John McKay had seen enough of struggling kicker Dave Warnke, and Lynch knuckle-balled a kickoff in another game when kicker Martin Gramatica was injured. It was not recommended that either player give up his day job.
  • Demar Dotson - If you want to count players who made a switch as soon as they got to the NFL, like Spurlock and Emanuel, then current Buc Dotson is a great example. He played three years of basketball at Ole Miss before taking it up on the gridiron as a senior. In his one year of college football, Dotson appeared in all of six games as a defensive tackle. Buc scouts saw raw talent and quick feet and brought him for a tryout in the spring of 1999, moving him to offensive tackle. Dotson made the team and is currently the primary reserve at left tackle.

You know, I think that's enough. Suffice it to say it's not really an uncommon situation. Just a few others in passing: Dave Moore was primarily a tight end but in the middle of his career spent a season or two as a fullback/H-back type; Barney Bussey was a safety but in 1993 he started in sort of a hybrid linebacker spot in an unusual Floyd Peters defense; Randy Grimes played tackle before becoming a long-time starter at center.

And, no, I'm not going to do the all-NFL part of this question. Sue me.

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  1. David "Uncle Buc" Fawley of Naples, Florida:

Last weeks # 4. Nate of Rochester, New York asks: Under the new rules for overtime in the playoffs what would happen if the team that is kicking off first does an onside kick and recovers and scores a field goal on the subsequent possession. Does the opposing team still get another possession? Is the game over? You hinted at a follow up Q, and I have one also... If the team winning the OT coin toss kicks and the opposing team receives (with possession) then turns the ball over to the kicking team, and they kick a field goal. Is the game over?

Answer Man: As Uncle Buc mentions, his follow-up question is different than the one I threw out there. It's also easier, so I'll go with his until somebody forces my hand on the one I mentioned (if the team with the original possession kicks a field goal and then successfully executes an onside kick, is the game over?).

If you didn't see my last column, the answer to Nate's original question, which started all of this is, yes, the other team still gets a possession. The team successfully pulling off the onside kick to start overtime in essence gets the first possession of the extra period, setting in motion the new playoff overtime rules.

What Uncle Buc is asking is, if the team with the original possession turns the ball over (that's different than failing to get an onside kick, because you do have the first possession in this case), and the other team then kicks a field goal, is the game over. The answer is yes. The rule is designed to keep the team that wins the coin toss from winning the game with a field goal, without the other team ever getting a chance at the ball. In this game, the team with the original possession has a chance (which they coughed up) and the second team then gets its chance. Once that happens, we're back to original sudden death rules.

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  1. Bart Schouten of Utrecht, The Netherlands asks:

Dear Answerman, as part of our honeymoon we want to visit our team the Bucs for the home game against the Steelers! What are the RJS policies on tailgating? or is there a chance for an official Bucs tailgating party? Kind regards, Bart & Wendy.

Answer Man: Congrats on the World Cup, by the way, Bart. I know Spain took the Cup, but what a showing by your Dutch, huh? Oh, and congrats on your nuptials. I imagine that's pretty important to you, too.

That's great news that you're going to make it to one of our home games. I guarantee you will have a wonderful time at Raymond James Stadium. And yes, you can get your day started off right by tailgating in the parking lot before the game. You will be one of many, many, many people doing so.

And yes, as a matter of fact, there is an official tailgate party on game days. It's set up by Levy Restaurants, which runs the concessions at Raymond James Stadium. If you want to get more information and/or make a reservation, call 813-350-6490.

Oh, one more thing: Answer Man, like Super Bowl, is two words.

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  1. Hershel of Plymouth (Florida, I'm guessing, though there are plenty of possibilities) asks:

When will the Bucs put up their next Hall of Fame players?

Answer Man: Well, Hershel, I'm guessing that you're referring to the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium which was unveiled last season with the induction of its inaugural member, defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. If that is what you mean, then the next person (not player, in this case) will be inducted on December 5, 2010 when the Buccaneers take on the Atlanta Falcons. The second member of the Ring of Honor: legendary Head Coach John McKay, who receives the honor posthumously.

That Atlanta contest will also be the Bucs Throwback Game in 2010, for those of you who continue to ask that question (such as Edward Perez of Kingsville, Texas).

If I'm wrong and you mean when will the Buccaneers get another player into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the answer is more ambiguous. Selmon is currently the only Hall of Famer who played primarily for the Buccaneers (G Randall McDaniel and QB Steve Young are also Hall of Famers with some Tampa Bay years on their resumes) but the Answer Man doesn't expect that to remain true forever. We've discussed this topic before, and I'm obviously biased, but it would seem like there are some very strong candidates (cough, Brooks, Sapp, Lynch, Barber) who were instrumental in the team that ended up as World Champs. The thing is, you have to have been retired from playing for five years before you are eligible to be considered for the Hall, and none of the likely candidates have reached that mark yet. So we'll have to wait and see.

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  1. Gregg R. of Tampa, Florida asks:

How is Connor Barth doing? He is one of the most accurate and steady kickers of the NFL, not to mention he was one of the top scorers of the team last year and won a couple games for us. Thanks.

Answer Man: Thank you on Connor's behalf, Gregg.

Indeed, after Mike Nugent and Shane Andrus failed to hold the job last year, Barth came in and was refreshingly dependable for the second half of the season. He was also an impressive long-range threat - remember those three bombs in Miami that nearly won the Bucs that game? - and he said coming into this offseason that he wanted to improve his accuracy from all distances.

Has he done that? Beats me. There aren't really stats for the offseason, though the Bucs often send a pro scout with a clipboard down to the practice field when some field goal kicking is going on. Barth looked poised and accurate to the Answer Man every time I saw a practice this spring and summer, but of course that's only anecdotal information. We'll know more when training camp practices start...tomorrow! Yay!!

Barth has also played for Kansas City, and overall in his career he is 24 of 31 (77.4%) on field goal tries. The NFL average last year per team on field goal tries was 24 of 29, so Barth was almost exactly on it. That would seem to indicate that Barth should be kicking somewhere in the NFL; the Answer Man thinks Bucs fans are going to be glad it's here.

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  1. Prince Tavita of Riverside, California asks:

Did Tampa get anyone or anything in exchange for when Bo Jackson didn't join the Bucs?

Answer Man: No. In 1986, the Buccaneers used the first overall pick in the draft on Auburn running back Bo Jackson even though Jackson had warned that he was unwilling to sign with the team. In this case, Jackson had some pretty good leverage - he could just go play baseball, which he did rather thrillingly for the Kansas City Royals.

When an NFL team drafts a player, it gets the exclusive rights to sign that player. Those rights last one year, until the next draft, and then they simply expire, with no compensation to the drafting team. If the player never signs, he goes back into the next draft and can then be chosen by any team. The Raiders did just that and convinced Jackson to play both sports.

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Okay, that's it for this week's effort, and I think this time I actually stuck to the abbreviated format. I can't tell you for sure when my next column will go up, but it will somewhat be a function of how full the mailbag gets. So send your questions and when the time is right, I'll be back with another round of answers.

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