Unsung Hero: Adam Hayward

It’s “Unsung Hero Week” here in the Captain’s Blog, and already we’ve shined a little light on an under-the-radar lead-blocker, an unselfish lineman holding a battered group together and a specialist who is one of the best field-position weapons in the NFL.  Now we turn our attention to a player who may not be able to stay “unsung for long.

Adam Hayward has given the Buccaneers five-and-a-half years of yeoman’s work, and has become so valued that he is a 2012 team captain.  Because of what he brings to the team, however, Hayward doesn’t have the national profile of some of his teammates.  He is an extremely valuable special teams asset, both for what he contributes himself and how he helps the largely young cast around him each year, and he solves about a million depth issues on the defense all by himself. Continue reading

‘Battling’ O-Line Produces Impressive Streak

The Carolina Panthers have the highest-rated pass rush (in terms of sacks per pass play) that the Buccaneers have faced this season.  And, sure enough, in their Week One meeting, Carolina was able to sack Josh Freeman as many times as he’s been dropped in a game all season.

Twice.

That’s right: Nine games into the 2012 season, the Buccaneers have not allowed Freeman to take more than two sacks in any game yet.  Specifically, he has been sacked twice in four of the games and just once in five of them, including each of the last three. Continue reading

McCoy Doesn’t Need Numbers to Dominate

View the numbers in a vacuum, and it would seem as if Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy has barely contributed to his team’s impressive three-game winning streak.  In victories over Minnesota, Oakland and San Diego, McCoy recorded exactly one solo tackle, two tackle assists and one pass defensed.  DE Da’Quan Bowers, just off the PUP list and playing a limited role at this point, has three tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and two quarterback hits in the same span.

Fortunately, McCoy is not judged by the numbers alone, at least not by the people who decide where and when he plays, and the people who determine how well he did so at the end of the game.  According to Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano, McCoy has been indispensable in his team’s rise into playoff contention.

“I think it’s more than just if I’m happy with [McCoy's production], it’s if it helps us win,” said Schiano. “That really is the ultimate goal. I think he can see how what he does helps us play better defense. We aren’t anywhere where we want to be but without Gerald we wouldn’t be where we are.” Continue reading

Bucs Finish Strong Again

The Buccaneers started the second half of their suddenly very intriguing 2012 season with a dominant second half of action against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Trailing 21-17 at halftime and having surrendered 254 yards and three sustained scoring drives, the Buccaneers came out after the break and controlled the final 30 minutes of football.

They finished, in other words, and that’s a significant step forward from the season’s first quarter, in which the Bucs went 1-3.  Tampa Bay has won four of its last five to move solidly back into the NFC playoff hunt, and they have consistently found ways to put their opponents away in the end.

“Confidence and sticking to our training, that’s what it’s about,” said WR Vincent Jackson after the Bucs finished off a 34-24 win over his former team. Continue reading

Military Family Helped Jackson Learn to Adapt

Vincent Jackson arrived in Tampa in March, quickly scoped out what was expected of him and what he needed to do to meet those expectations, then simply went to work.  It’s a process he’s been through before, even though this was the first time had switched NFL teams.

You see, Jackson was a self-described “military brat” as a child, and he is thus well-practiced at adapting to a new home and a new environment.  With two parents in the U.S. Army, he was born in Louisiana, spent a year in Arizona, lived in Germany for three years and spent his his teenage days in Colorado before heading off to college at Northern Colorado.

“I was used to moving around, having to be the new kid in school, things like that,” said Jackson.  “So coming here I knew what to do – just keep quiet, do your job, go about your business the right way and you earn the respect through your actions.  Continue reading

Freeman Driving Bucs’ Offensive Surge

Tampa Bay’s offensive explosion over the last four weeks – the Bucs lead the league in that span in both yards and points – has made a star out of rookie RB Doug Martin and propelled Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams into the ranks fo the NFL’s best WR tandems.  It is also the result of the team’s concerted efforts this offseason to maximize the talent they believed was residing in their young franchise quarterback, Josh Freeman.  Martin, Jackson and Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks (now on injured reserve) were all supposed to give Freeman all the tools he needed to unlock his potential.

Clearly, Freeman is seeing the benefit of those maneuvers, as he is now surrounded with the kind of across-the-board big-play talent that has rarely, if ever, been assembled at one time in franchise history.  But there’s an important distinction to be made here: Josh Freeman is not merely reaping the benefits of the outstanding seasons produced by his skill-positions.  Rather, he has been the key to making those seasons happen. Continue reading

Freeman, Sullivan Share Credit for Interception Decrease

Josh Freeman made franchise history in October when he became the first Buccaneer quarterback ever to throw at least three touchdown passes in three consecutive team games.  (Vinny Testaverde once had three straight personal three-TD games, but he missed a game in the middle.)

Those nine total touchdowns against Kansas City, New Orleans and Minnesota were impressive, but just as impressive – and perhaps even more important – was the fact that he threw only one interception in that same span.  Freeman memorably put up a 25-6 TD-INT ratio in his first full year as a starter in 2010, but last year those numbers flipped to 16-22.  Getting him well back into the plus side of that ledger was one of new Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan’s main goals for 2012. Continue reading

Martin Beat Out a Crowded Field

On Thursday, the league named Buccaneers RB Doug Martin its NFL Offensive Player of the Month for October.  In relaying that news, Buccaneers.com conjectured that some of Martin’s top competition for the award came from Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson.  The field of candidates was actually much deeper than that.

The NFL considered 11 nominees for the October award, as submitted by NFL teams.  That group included the first three players drafted in April – Luck, Griffin and Richardson.  Martin went hours later on the first day of that draft, after the Bucs traded up to #31 overall to grab him before the opening round was over.  The former Boise State star admits that he is keeping an eye on what his high-profile draft-mates are doing…but only just a little bit.

“I wouldn’t say it was a goal [to outdo his fellow 2012 draftees],” said Martin after learning about his Rookie of the Month honors.  “I just wanted to come into this thing and be successful, just doing whatever I can for the team.  If I just go into it like that every game, it will play out very well.

“Sometimes I do see how they’re doing  – Trent, RG3 and all of them – but I mostly just focus on myself.”

For the record, here were the other 10 nominees that Martin had to overcome, with their key statistics from the month of October included:

Detroit WR Ryan Broyles (second round, 54th overall): two touchdowns and six receptions for 88 yards.

  • St. Louis WR Chris Givens (fourth round, 96th overall): 10 catches for 272 yards (27.2 average) and two touchdowns.
  • Cleveland WR Josh Gordon (supplemental draft): 10 catches for 286 yards (28.6 average) with four touchdowns.
  • Washington QB Robert Griffin III (first round, 2nd overall): 708 passing yards, four touchdowns and a 90 passer rating, 242 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
  • Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck (first round, 1st overall): 1,125 passing yards with three touchdowns.
  • Washington RB Alfred Morris (sixth round, 173rd overall): 341 rushing yards and a touchdown.
  • Miami QB Ryan Tannehill (first round, 8th overall): 426 passing yards with two touchdowns and a 98.3 passer rating.
  • Minnesota K Blair Walsh (sixth round, 175th overall): 32 points scored, 8-8 on field-goal attempts.
  • Seattle QB Russell Wilson (third round, 75th overall): 872 passing yards, six touchdowns and a 90.4 passer rating.
  • Tennessee WR Kendall Wright (first round, 20th overall): 22 receptions for 203 yards and one touchdown.

Martin carried the day with the weight of his league-leading 155.7 yards from scrimmage per game in the month.  If it was close, he likely put it away with his 64-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in Minnesota last Thursday.

“Doug, he’s explosive, he has great hands,” said QB Josh Freeman.  “You get the ball in his hands with a little bit of space and he does a tremendous job. You saw it in the Vikings game – he’ll make the first guy miss and if he gets a little crease he’s extremely explosive. He knows how to find the end zone.”

Penn’s Career a Model for New LG Starter

Donald Penn is going to have a new teammate lined up next to him at left guard on Sunday when the Buccaneers take on the Oakland Raiders.  Whoever that proves to be, Penn is going to know what he is going through…and he’ll know what a wonderful opportunity it is.

The Buccaneers suffered a significant blow to their increasingly prolific offense on Tuesday when guard Carl Nicks was moved to injured reserve due to a toe ailment.  Nicks and Penn had given the Buccaneers a Pro Bowl left side of the offensive line, but now the deck is being shuffled again, just like it was two months ago when Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph went down with a knee injury.

“Man, losing Carl is big,” said Penn.  “Carl is one of the best guards in the league.  You cannot sit there and honestly say losing Carl is not going to hurt you.  He’s the best guard in the league and losing him is going to be big.  But we’ve got to step up.  The next person up has got to step up, whoever it’s going to be.”

That’s something Penn did five years ago, in one afternoon going from obscure reserve to starter at one of the most critical positions in the game.  Luke Petitgout began the 2007 season as the Buccaneers’ starter at left tackle but was felled by a knee injury four games in, during a win at Carolina.  Penn stepped into the lineup in the middle of that game, and next week made his first NFL start.  He has started 83 consecutive games for Tampa Bay since.

“That’s how I got my start,” he said.  “That’s how a lot of these people get their starts in the league.  You’ve got to come and step up.  It’s going to be hard replacing Carl just like it was hard replacing Dav.  Whoever steps up, they’ve got to play like they are Carl.”

After signing a lucrative free agency deal in March, Nicks was expected to lock down the left guard spot next to Penn after the team bounced between Keydrick Vincent, Larsen and Zuttah over the previous two seasons (Zuttah now starts at center).  That plan is now gone, and the new starter could once again be Larsen or Zuttah, or it could be reserve Cody Wallace or tackle Jeremy Trueblood, making a move inside.  Whoever it is, Penn will still be there in his usual spot, and that will help the replacement make a smooth transition.

“That’s how it goes,” said Penn.  “I’m going to try to help those guys.  Whoever it is, I’m going to try to help them as much as I can, try to give them whatever help I can from my experience.  We’re going to be alright.”

Lorig’s Preparation Paying Off

Josh Freeman, at the helm of the most productive offense of the past month, threw nine touchdown passes in three October games.  Five of those went, unsurprisingly, to starting receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, and one each went to primary tight end Dallas Clark, starting tailback Doug Martin and oft-used third receiver Tiquan Underwood.

That left one scoring pass for a wild card in the Bucs’ offensive mix, and that’s a good term for the team’s free-spirited fullback, Erik Lorig. Continue reading