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When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers declined to match the more than $3 million offer the Detroit Lions made to restricted free agent Kalvin Pearson, they effectively kissed goodbye their top special teams performer of the last three years.
He led the Bucs in special teams tackles with 25 in 2005, added 13 more in 2006 and last year led the team in special teams tackles with 21.
Pearson’s agent told Bucsblitz.com last month that both he and Pearson thought that was enough to get a long-term deal out of the Bucs.
The nature of special teams performers is that they’re replaceable. Special teams players are almost never starters. They’re usually young players that are waiting for their turn to start or journeyman veterans, like Pearson, who never will start but have value in special teams.
Witness linebacker Barrett Ruud. He transitioned from special teams contributor in his first two years to a full-time starter last year. He rarely darkened the door of special teams last year.
The Buccaneers probably thought the asking price for Pearson, a safety by trade, was too high.
They also probably thought they could find his replacement in house. Special teams coordinator Richard Bisaccia has done a fine job in recent years of crafting solid, and at times, spectacular coverage units. At times last season the kickoff coverage unit was No. 1 in the NFL. The unit eventually fell off, but not by much.
It’s clear Bisaccia knows how to coach special teams. But Pearson was a gunner, one of those fearless players that runs down the field full-tilt, takes on the first blockers and hurtles himself into ball carriers. Who will fill that void? Here are the early candidates to be the Bucs’ leading special teams tackler in 2008:
Maurice Stovall: Barring his elbow injury, Stovall should be in shape for training camp. He was second in special teams tackles with 18 and he specialized in timing his tackles as the returner caught the football — and he rarely let go. He’s not the prototypical gunner, but he gets the job done.
Quincy Black: The linebacker is flat out fast and made his own open-field tackles on special teams last year, including a forced fumble. He had 17 tackles last year and he’s my early candidate to lead the team in special teams tackles in 2008.
Adam Hayward: Another fleet linebacker who didn’t have a huge impact on special teams last year, making only 11 tackles. He’s the player I think who could see the biggest surge in production on special teams in 2008, thanks to his speed.
Sabby Piscitelli: He missed most of last year, but he was on both coverage units before the injury. He’s not as fast as Black and Hayward, but he sure can hit and since he’ll likely sit behind Jermaine Phillips, he’ll have plenty of time to work under Bisaccia.
The Bucs will miss Pearson’s speed and tackling ability on special teams, but they correctly gambled by not re-signing him. Special teams, while important, is an area in which teams must get quality play out of a player that gives them a good contract value. The days of signing players like Steve Tasker and Bill Bates just to play special teams is over.
Pearson will do fine in Detroit. And chances are one of the aforementioned players will step up in 2008 for Tampa Bay.
Read the most recent edition of Buccaneers Mail Bag, with Postins’ exclusive analysis on Michael Bennett, Quincy Black, Sabby Piscitelli and which wide receivers could get cut in 2008? Click here for that exclusive analysis and much more.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.