Eliot Harrison: It’s Sapp vs. Strahan for the Hall

If Warren Sapp is ushered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, he will be part of an extraordinarily strong Class of 2013.  If Sapp is not a part of that group, it will likely be because of how strong it is.

That’s essentially the point NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison made on Tuesday.  Harrison actually makes one contention and one prediction when it comes to the former Buccaneer great, and they are at odds.  Harrison contends that Sapp should be one of the five modern-era figures inducted into the Hall this year, but he predicts that former Giants’ defensive end Michael Strahan will get the votes to take Sapp’s spot.

The decision is in the hands of the 46 members of the media who are currently on the Hall of Fame Selection Committee.  The group includes one reporter each from the 32 NFL towns, such as the Tampa Tribune’s Ira Kaufman, a Pro Football Writers of America rep and 13 other at-large members such as SI’s Peter King and ESPN’s John Clayton.  They will go behind closed doors on Saturday, February 2 in New Orleans and debate until they’ve reached a consensus.  They will pick at least two and no more than five inductees from the 15 modern-era finalists, and almost everyone believes they’ll max out the class this year.

By Harrison’s estimation, first-year-eligible offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden are stone-cold locks.  He also believes the Hall will finally call for five-time Super Bowl champion Charles Haley and that legendary coach Bill Parcells will make it in after waiting one extra year.

If all of that comes to pass, then there would be just one spot remaining for the other two first-year-eligible finalists, Sapp and Strahan, as well as some intriguing holdover candidates (Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Will Shields, etc.).  Harrison would vote for Sapp over Strahan, but he thinks the actual voters may lean towards Strahan because he “still effervesces in the public eye.”

Still, Harrison makes a strong case for Sapp; check it out.  We’ll be doing the same thing in the Captain’s Blog next week as the vote draws near.

2013 NFL Mock Draft Recon: Expert Takes on Buccaneers 13th Overall Pick

We may still have 93 days left until the 2013 Draft, but its never too early for the experts to share their thoughts on the best athletes in college football. The mock draft experts around the NFL are already at it when it comes to predicting what the Buccaneers will be doing with the 13th overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. Of course, none of this reflects the thoughts that are taking place inside One Buc Place.

Surely, much will change in the coming months, but here in mid-January, the experts seemed to have reached a bit of a consensus on this idea: cornerback will be receiving the Bucs’ first phone call on draft weekend.

You may recall that this is not the first time such a consensus has been reached, in very recent memory, which goes to show you that no one is really sure what will transpire on April 25, 2013. In our collection of NFL draft analyst predictions last year, just days before the 2012 NFL Draft, 19 of the 20 experts believed that the Buccaneers would be selecting Morris Claiborne with their fifth overall selection.

Now, eight of the ten experts have once again posted that their prediction lies at the cornerback spot. All three cornerbacks who are commonly expected to fall in the first round are on the prediction short list. Here’s what the NFL.com draft profiles have to say about them: Continue reading

Attention Shifts to Senior Bowl

A little over a year ago, Russell Wilson started for the North team and Brandon Weeden opened for the South as the 61st Senior Bowl was played in Mobile, Alabama.  Weeden and Wilson would end up as first and third-round picks, respectively, in the NFL Draft a few months later, and by the fall the former would be starting for the Cleveland Browns and the latter for the Seattle Seahawks.

In fact, the 2012 Senior Bowl was a pretty remarkable showcase for NFL-ready offensive talent.  Note, for instance, the three quarterbacks that took turns throwing passes for the South team: Weeden, Nick Foles and Ryan Lindley.  All three would end up as starters in the NFL in 2012 (for Cleveland, Philadelphia and Arizona, respectively), and Wilson’s backup on the North team, Kirk Cousins, would get one start in place of his injured Washington Redskins teammate, fellow rookie Robert Griffin III. Continue reading

Pack Your Bags, Doug!

This time a year ago, Doug Martin was getting ready for his first Senior Bowl practice.  This week, he’ll be preparing to take the field with the greatest players in the NFL.

Martin, the Buccaneers’ record-breaking rookie running back, is headed to the Pro Bowl.  The official announcement of this fact may have to wait a few hours, but it’s a simple matter of connecting the dots.  Martin was named the first alternate to the NFC Pro Bowl squad at running back this year, and one of the three all-star selections in front of him, San Francisco’s Frank Gore, is now headed to New Orleans for the Super Bowl.  Gore will be unavailable for the NFL’s all-star game, so Martin will take his place.

UPDATE: The NFL has already officially informed the Buccaneers that Martin is replacing Gore in the Pro Bowl.

Fortunately for the former Boise State star, he’ll have several Buccaneer teammates on hand to help him get acclimated to the Pro Bowl scene in Honolulu.  Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and wide receiver Vincent Jackson will also be playing for the NFC, and while McCoy is a first-time all-star Jackson has made the trip two times before.

Martin’s Pro Bowl selection is another indication that the Buccaneers’ offense is awash in potential.  The 2012 team already broke the franchise single-season records for yards and points gained, and with Pro Bowl offensive linemen Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks returning from injured reserve in 2013 that could just be the beginning.  After all, Jackson and Martin will be the first WR-RB pair ever to make the Pro Bowl in the same season for the Buccaneers.

Martin is the third rookie in team history to make the Pro Bowl, all three of which have been running backs.  Warrick Dunn went straight from the draft to the all-star game in 1997, as did Clifton Smith in 2008, though Smith made it as a kick returner.  Martin will be one of just three rookies in this year’s Pro Bowl, joining Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III and Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh (Griffin will not play in the game due to injury).

New Coaches Dot Bucs’ 2013 Home Schedule

Last year, Greg Schiano led a new-look Buccaneer squad into Raymond James Stadium, opening the season with a 16-10 win over Carolina in his first regular-season game as head coach.  In 2013, there’s a decent chance another first-year head coach will be on the sideline for the Buccaneers’ home opener.

Eight NFL teams have hired new head coaches since the end of the 2012 season, including two that followed the Buccaneers’ model last season and turned to the college ranks.  Of those eight, three will be playing in Tampa next fall, including both squads with former college coaches at the helm. Continue reading

Jackson Expects More in 2013, Thanks to Continuity

After just one season as an NFL offensive coordinator, the Buccaneers’ Mike Sullivan had his tires kicked in the interview carousel this past month, as eight teams looked for new head coaches.  While understanding the interest in his OC, Pro Bowl WR Vincent Jackson is definitely pleased Sullivan will still be leading the Bucs’ offense in 2013.

“I think it’s huge,” said Jackson.  “To get that year under your belt is huge, and if we had gotten a new guy here we could have had a different system and we would have had to pretty much start from scratch like we did last year.  So having this confidence – you know, we kind of know what to expect from him and the coaching staff knows what to expect from us – it’s definitely going to give us a head start this offseason.” Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: Can the Pro Bowl Be Saved?

On Tuesday, the Buccaneers learned that their own Vincent Jackson had been added to the Pro Bowl roster, where he joins teammate Gerald McCoy and, if things go right this coming weekend, perhaps Doug Martin as well.  Presumably, Johnny BucFan just got a few more reasons to watch the NFL’s all-star game on January 26.  But will he?

You see, we should probably call it the NFL’s beleaguered all-star game.  Right now, the Pro Bowl is about as popular as the kid who asks the teacher for extra homework at the end of class.  Last year’s game included a combined 100 points, but it wasn’t the type of fireworks display that impressed its viewership.  After all, if you’ve ever seen a football team practice you’ve seen a lot of “touchdowns,” too, but nobody is rushing to televise that.

You won’t find too many pure defenders of the Pro Bowl these days.  Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this past October that the game might have to go away if it isn’t fixed.  However, there are surely those who believe it can be fixed, and that the NFL should have a fun, popular all-star event just like MLB and the NBA, and to a lesser extent the NHL.  The real question is, given the nature of the game of football, is it actually possible to play a useful all-star game that both players and fans will enjoy?

So that’s our question this week, Andrew: Can the NFL’s Pro Bowl be saved?  I’ll let you have first crack at it. Continue reading

Jackson Humbled by Pro Bowl Honor

On Tuesday, Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson learned that he had been named to his third Pro Bowl and his first as part of the NFC squad.  Jackson, the first alternate at his position, was chosen because Detroit’s Calvin Johnson will be unable to play due to injury.

Jackson had this to say about his selection:

“It’s always humbling to be selected to the Pro Bowl, and I would not have been able to achieve this without the help of my coaches, teammates, and the Buccaneers staff. With all of the hard work we put in during the offseason and regular season, for it to be recognized by not only the fans, but also your peers in the league, is simply an incredible honor. I truly appreciate the support and am thrilled to share this amazing experience with the entire Buccaneer Nation.”

Pro Bowl By the Numbers

Lavonte David did not make the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but his debut NFL season was so impressive that it suggests possible all-star trips in his future.  If David does indeed make it to Hawaii during his career, he will be adding to the Bucs’ considerable Pro Bowl legacy at the linebacker position.

No position has sent more players to the Pro Bowl in franchise history than linebacker, and – thanks primarily to Derrick Brooks – no position has more overall selections.  Five different linebackers have represented Tampa Bay in the all-star game: David Lewis, Hugh Green, Hardy Nickerson, Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles.  Those five have combined for 20 overall Pro Bowl trips, 11 of them belong to Brooks and five to Nickerson.

However, Vincent Jackson’s selection on Tuesday as Calvin Johnson’s injury replacement has closed the gap quite a bit.  Continue reading

Seven-Win Bump Still Promising, to a Certain Extent

During the summer of 2011, after the Buccaneers had surprised many in the NFL with a 10-6 campaign the previous fall, the “Answer Man” on Buccaneers.com did some research on teams that improved by at least seven wins from one year to the next.  He found 23 such teams, beginning with the 1962-63 San Diego Chargers of the AFL and ending with the 2009-10 Buccaneers, who had rebounded impressively from a 3-13 campaign in 2009.  Each team was tracked over a five-year period, with the low-win season being termed “Year -1,” the improved season “Year 0,” the next season after that improvement “Year 1,” and so on. (Rumor has it that the Answer Man is returning soon, by the way, if you happen to enjoy his work.)

The initial study was in response to a fan’s question regarding whether teams that made such a rapid improvement could make it stick in the years that followed.  In his first-ever video segment, the Answer Man discussed his findings, which indicated that teams tended to regress to about .500 in Year +1 but then once again rebound to stay above .500 the next two years.  The numbers in the chart could certainly be read either optimistically or not, and indeed ESPN.com’s NFC South blogger, Pat Yasinskas, picked up on the study and accurately noted that Year +1 had not been especially kind to many of those teams. Continue reading