Bucs camp report: Young players hungry to take next step

Pat Kirwan recently visited Buccaneers camp in Tampa, Fla. Here's what he saw.

Observation deck

1. There's a new quarterback on defense. Gone is MLB Barrett Ruud and inserted is third-round rookie Mason Foster. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy described Foster as a guy who "sees ball, gets ball." Foster will be a force against the run, but will be a work in progress making the calls and adjustments. After sitting down with Foster, I feel good about his ability to grow into the quarterback role for the defense. He has a calmness about him and doesn't dwell on mistakes. The Bucs also don't plan to have him play on third down, which will help his development.

2. The third-down back job is open. Cadillac Williams did a good job last year as the Bucs' third-down back, but he is now with the St. Louis Rams. I don't believe the winner of the important job has been decided. LeGarrette Blount wants to be a three-down back, but I get the feeling Earnest Graham is the leader with Kregg Lumpkin challenging for the spot. There's no substitute for experience in protections and route running and Graham has both.

3. The Aqib Talib cloud hangs over camp.  Talib is a talent; there's no argument about that. But with Talib's offseason arrest for aggravated assault, the Bucs really don't know what commissioner Roger Goodell will decide about his availability this season. Some inside the organization speculate it will be 2012 before a decision is made -- because Talib won't face a trial until next March -- but others believe a suspension could come without notice sometime during the season. The challenge for GM Mark Dominik is to be ready in case of a 2011 suspension. Myron Lewis and E.J. Biggers can play and the emergence of seventh-round corner Anthony Gaitor might be their ace in the hole.

4. Mark Dominik has a keen eye. I tip my hat to Dominik for his ability to pick players, especially guys off the waiver wire, who come into Tampa and become really good starters. Blount, OG Ted Larsen, DE Michael Bennett and WR Dezmon Briscoe are waiver-wire pickups, financial bargains and young enough to stay for years. Keep your eye on Dominik during the upcoming cuts; he will work his magic again.

New guy watch

» Adrian Clayborn. The Bucs' first-round pick slipped in the draft because of a medical condition that limited his right side and caused his production to fall off during his senior year at Iowa. Watching him at practice at defensive end and talking to him afterwards, I don't think there is reason to be concerned. Clayborn stays put when the offense brings a tight end to his side and has been moving inside the guard in some third-down situations. He wouldn't do either if his physical limitations prevented it.

» Da'Quan Bowers. The rookie defensive end told me he had a win in his first one-on-one pass rush against a starting Buccaneers lineman. Bowers has really leaned out since college. He used to have a weight problem early in his career at Clemson but got down to 295 late in his college career. He told me he's 277 right now and hasn't lost any strength. Both Bowers and Clayborn are benefiting from being coached by former NFL defensive lineman Keith Millard.

» Anthony Gaitor. Everyone in the personnel business hopes they hit a home run late in the draft. Right now the Bucs are starting to get excited about their seventh-round corner. Gaitor has been described to me as tenacious and physical.

Overheard

"It takes a thief to catch a thief."
--Gerald McCoy, on turning it loose and becoming more disruptive after not finishing plays as a rookie in 2010. McCoy said things have gotten more simple for him during camp and he's doing a lot less thinking.

"I'm not sure, but I'm a big dude."
--Josh Freeman, when I asked how many sacks the 6-foot-7, 260-pound QB avoided last year because defenders just dripped off him. A coach told me it was about 15-16 times.

Prediction

This group of extremely young guys is so focused on getting better and taking the next step that I don't think they will be denied a playoff spot, especially if they get to 10 wins again. They are in a tough division to say the least, but Freeman should be even more productive with a healthy Kellen Winslow and Blount for 16 games. Last year, Blount only had 10 carries for 30 yards in the first five weeks, but his next 191 carries produced 977 yards. A full 16-game season for the 250-pound back should generate close to 1,300 yards.

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