So let’s get this out of the way immediately. Curtis Lofton is a good LB. There, I said it. This seems to be the consensus and I certainly agree. Let’s take it to the next logical step though. Curtis Lofton is not a great LB. Maybe one day he will be. Maybe not. He’s certainly not the linebacking messiah that he’s been portrayed as of late. He’s a liability in coverage but he’s good against the run. He’s kind of the anti Barrett Ruud, which is enough to endear him to the typical Bucs fan.
The Bucs need help at LB. This is stating the obvious. Bucs LB’s were anemic across the board last year. There were a number of reasons for this. I’ll name a few. First and most obvious, the personnel was lacking. This was not thought to be the case before the season began. Most people were more than happy to help Ruud pack his bags for greener pastures. FA Quincy Black was signed to a big contract. He showed enough flashes the year before to make this seem to be a reasonable gamble. Speaking of flashes, Geno Hayes flashed well enough to prove to Raheem Morris that he deserved a shot at outside backer. With a promising Dekoda Watson and the always reliable Adam Hayward in reserve all that was left was someone to fill the middle spot. That someone was Mason Foster, who I thought at the time was a great choice.
Well, as we all know now the wheels fell off during the second half of the season. That brings me to the second reason the LB’s were suspect: the defensive line. With a revolving door at both DT spots due to injuries to both Gerald McCoy and Brian Price the middle of the defense became a sieve and teams exploited it over and over again. We also had rookies (with an assist from Michael Bennett) on the edges getting their pro feet wet. This exposed the rookie Foster at MLB who not only had to call the defense, he also had to flow to the runner, who was usually through the middle of a defense that had parted like the Red Sea, and who had a full head of steam. The veteran’s didn’t fare much better. We’ve learned now that Black played most of the year with nagging injuries, but what players don’t? As for Geno Hayes, he just doesn’t make enough plays. I still think Foster can become a good pro once he’s stabilized at one position, likely on the outside.
So with all of this expository material to go on concerning the LB’s it was assumed that the long rumored free agent spree would almost certainly yield a LB (or two). And this is where the suddenly very attractive FA Curtis Lofton fits in. Confession: I would have preferred Stephen Tulloch. And I may still prefer David Hawthorne. I could also live with near grandpa London Fletcher. We have to remember just because the Bucs have some money to spend doesn’t make it prudent to frivolously spend on every FA that fits a need. The Bucs have been through that kind of trend already. Does anyone remember Charlie Garner? Luke Pettigout? The list goes on – the Gruden/Allen days were rife with horrific FA decisions that cost ownership millions of dollars and delivered nothing in return. You can’t blame them for being cautious. I believe that building through the draft is the right approach. I think they’ve learned these last few years that it’s also not the only approach and that a strategic sprinkling of free agents is also needed. Let’s hope this first bounty of free agents does not dampen this new penchant for spending. But regarding Lofton the bottom line is the Bucs didn’t overspend on one particular good, but not great LB. My guess is that by the draft or shortly after the Bucs will have signed at least one veteran LB.
Odds and Ends
As the draft rapidly approaches draft prognostication begins (or continues) in earnest. With the first two picks almost certainly the QB’s and the 3rd nearly as certainly the LT Matt Kalil, the Bucs are well positioned to get one of the next 3 consensus elite players. In no order this would be Justin Blackmon, Trent Richardson and Morris Claiborne. The smart money says the Bucs will go with Claiborne but I’m not so sure this is a slam dunk. It’s been stated many times but is worth stating again, an elite CB does not guarantee a team success. Quickly, name the elite Giants CB? Too difficult? Ok, how about the elite Patriots CB. I know what you’re going to say, the Giants have that elite defensive line and the Pats have their offense. That would be correct but that’s also my point. Be good at most things, be very good at something and try not to be terrible at any one thing and you’re probably going to be ok. I think the Bucs have made strides in this direction this offseason.
Speaking of linebackers, the message boards and blogs are in love with Luke Kuechly. I like him, but I don’t love him. This isn’t Patrick Willis we’re talking about here. More along the lines of Dan Conner or James Lauranitis. Good, but not elite. In fact one of the criticisms I’ve read the most about Kuechly is that he ‘often makes the tackle too far down the field’. Uh, does this sound like anyone we know? Would I want him on the Bucs? Sure, but nowhere near where we’re picking now and if one of the elite prospects is available at #5, and at least one should be, we go with that guy. The Bucs will look hard at 2nd to 4th round prospects like Sean Spence from Miami and Tank Carder from TCU.
As for the all important pick at 5, who do we take? This much is true, the Bucs, like all other teams in the NFL have their own draft board. The decision at 5 won’t be a hard one for them. The only thing that might be difficult is if they get attractive trade offers; if not they’ll have the card up long before their 10 minutes are up. I like Mo Claibrorne but I’m not sure if he’s the physical kind of corner it’s rumored the new staff prefers. Certainly with his college position coach on board he’ll put in the good word but there are other, more physical CB’s available. Trent Richardson remains the most intriguing possibility. Unquestioned elite talent and unquestionably the #1 player at his position. A one/two punch with Richardson and Blount will have opposing defensive coaches sweating as they’ll want to stack the box but can’t now because we have a legitimate #1 receiver on the outside. Of course with Claiborne on board we’ll have unquestioned depth at CB particularly if Talib is back. These are good ‘problems’ to have as we approach the draft in this busy offseason.