Tampa Bay tries to address problems on special teams with its Day 2 selections.
By RICK STROUD
Published April 26, 2004
TAMPA - The Bucs paid an enormous price in terms of draft picks for acquiring coach Jon Gruden, a deal they would make again in a heartbeat considering it brought the team its only Super Bowl championship.
But it has led to some long days and even longer faces each April for the past three years when the installments came due.
"They all show me their rocks all the time about winning that Super Bowl, so I can't feel sorry for the last few years what's been (happening) in Tampa," said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, the former Raiders senior assistant.
Allen was reminded that for the past two years in Oakland, he benefited from the Bucs' bounty of draft picks.
"Yeah, but I was also on the other side when we got (routed)," Allen said. "I like being in this locker room right now."
After completing the NFL draft Sunday, he will like it even more.
The Bucs used the weekend to address weaknesses that contributed heavily to last season's 7-9 record.
They started by selecting LSU receiver Michael Clayton in the first round Saturday, a physical player who could fill the void left by the trade of Keyshawn Johnson. Their special teams lost games, and every player selected over the weekend would improve that unit.
"Obviously we'd like these men to form a bond, the class of 2004, and assume some sort of leadership here and pave the way for the direction of our future," Gruden said.
"I expect these guys to form their own band and be pioneers if you will for the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and roll their fists up and fight like hell because that's why we picked them."
By the time the draft ended Sunday, the team had added eight players at as many positions, representing six conferences, including two from the Ivy League.
The Bucs began the second day the way they ended the first, addressing a need on defense. Tampa Bay used its fourth-round pick (111th overall) to select Ohio State safety Will Allen. Although Allen started one season for the Buckeyes, he was a highly productive player stuck behind a future NFL standout, Colts safety Mike Doss.
In the fifth round the Bucs took North Carolina guard Jeb Terry (6 feet 5, 311 pounds), giving them eight guards heading into training camp. But Terry is a long snapper and displayed those talents at the Senior Bowl. Considering the Bucs had three kicks blocked against Carolina last season, he could provide a better inside blocker on field goals and extra points.
Concentrating on offense, the Bucs chose Yale tight end Nate Lawrie (6-7, 256 pounds) in the sixth round. The Bucs began the seventh round with a trade, sending fullback Darian Barnes and the 217th overall pick to the Cowboys to move up 10 spots and select Tennessee receiver/kick returner Mark Jones. Until last season, each of Jones' four starts came at safety. But he finished with 36 receptions for 556 yards and five touchdowns. In a game against Kentucky, he participated in 92 snaps.
Barnes faced an uphill battle at fullback with Mike Alstott, free agent Greg Comella and Jameel Cook.
"Certainly Mark Jones is a unique person," Gruden said. "Anybody who plays offense and defense and is a vital part of the kicking game at Tennessee has got to have the right stuff. We'll see what happens, but we're excited to have him in the seventh round."
Gruden dipped into the Ivy League again for Dartmouth's Casey Cramer in the seventh round (228), a tight end who will play fullback for the Bucs. Southern cornerback Lenny Williams, who played against the Grambling teams coached by Bucs pro personnel assistant Doug Williams, rounded out the draft.
Gruden hopes all eight players will immediately improve special teams.
"It was unacceptable," Gruden said. "There were some things and I take full responsibility for that. We were last in field goal accuracy, we had kicks blocked, we gave up return yardage, we didn't make any return yardage of our own. Frankly, it's unacceptable. We're not going to go anywhere; we're lucky to be 7-9 with that type of performance."
How well the Bucs performed in their first draft under Allen won't be known for a few years. But there were more smiles Sunday.
"I'm still looking forward one day to having a first- and second-rounder," Gruden said.
"Jeez crimony. Man, it's tough. That's three years in a row we've not had a first- and second-rounder. Those are premium picks, those are opportunties you get to acquire the rights to sometimes very unique people."