Tampa Bay Offseason Preview

Antonio Bryant (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

With free agency officially underway, this will be the last time fans may get to see players such as Antonio Bryant among others in a Buccaneers uniform. Thought some players such as Donald Penn, Cadilac Williams and Barrett Ruud don't appear to be leaving town. Read on for everything you need to know about the Buccaneers and their plans for the next few months.

Tennessee safety Eric Berry would be a perfect fit with the Bucs.

He's special," said Monte Kiffin, the long-time Bucs defensive coordinator who coached Berry last season with the Vols. "I'm not just saying this. He's the real deal. He's a football junkie and was watching tape right away.

"We had a rule when I was coaching John Lynch. We called it the Lynch Rule when we brought him down in the box. I brought in the Berry Rule."

Berry, 21, has read all the mock drafts that have him going No. 3 overall to Tampa Bay. But when it comes to the NFL Draft, "safety first" is not their workplace motto.

In fact, when Berry hits his browser, it's to record all the criticism he is taking from pro football analysts in Knocks-ville.

"The only thing I've done is gone on the internet and found the negative stuff about me and used that as motivation," Berry said at the combine while picking at pineapple slices in the concierge lounge of the Marriott.

"I've seen things just as 'he lacks ball skills,' which is really hard to believe. 'Return skills after an interception.' Just the fact that people are saying a safety can't be taken that high. I've read that a whole lot. I'm just trying to break that mode and be different."

By making Berry a focal point of the Vols defense, Kiffin removed a lot of guesswork for the NFL. He never came off the field. When teams went to three receivers, Berry moved to the nickel slot the way Ronde Barber has done in the Bucs defense for years.

"I really liked the multiplicity of the defense," Berry said. "There was so much he let me do as far as coverage-wise, blitzing, just being the box, having a lot of fun like that. I guess you could say I was a handyman on defense.

"There were some times when the quarterback would start checking at the line and we would be in a blitz. I'd look to the sideline and (Monte) would give me a little head nod or something and that would be like the cue for me to check out of the play and check into a different coverage so the quarterback would be thrown off."

In three seasons at Tennessee, Berry recorded 14 interceptions with 494 return yards and three touchdowns. He has been compared favorably to All-Pro safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.

"There's just certain things I like to pick out from their game and put into my own game and build the type of player I want to be," Berry said.

There were two reasons why Berry felt it was time to leave Tennessee after his junior season. One was boredom. Opponents had decided to avoid his side of the field as if "I had a plague."

Following a game at Georgia two years ago, Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford admitted he had been under strict orders not to challenge Berry.

"Stafford came up to me after the game and said, 'Coach told me not to throw your way but I just had to do it anyway.' He tried it and I got him. It was funny. Nobody wanted to come near me."

The other motivation was to make life easier for his family. His father, James Berry, was a captain on the Vols football team (his father's cousin is former Bucs linebacker Hugh Green). He worked two jobs, pulling 12-hour shifts with Owens Corning and as a painting contractor.

"So I really just wanted him to get a chance to sit down and relax," Berry said. "He just spent at least a month with me in Boca Raton while I was training. He was just relaxing. That was good to see."

Berry managed to escape the drugs and the death that was all around him growing up in Fairburn, Ga., by staying involved in sports in Clarence Duncan Park. But now that park has deteriorated from too many budget cuts, so Berry plans to restore it.

"There's so much negativity in the area with drugs and gang activity, it's easy for kids to feed into that," Berry said. "At the same time, if you get back there and get the park rebuilt and really give them a chance to go back there and give them a place where they can have fun and get off the streets, I think that will give them a chance to be successful."

His twin brothers, Evan and Elliott, are great players in their own right. Evan, 13, made news on Rivals.com when he committed to Tennessee.

If players could sign letters-of-intent to the NFL, you get the feeling Berry would chose Tampa Bay.

"Definitely, going to Tampa, that's easy," Berry said. "I already know their playbook. I already know everything from the d-line to the linebackers to the corners. I know what they're supposed to do and where they're supposed to be at. But I really don't try to focus on any one team because you never know."

Kiffin, who followed his son, Lane, to Southern Cal, believes Berry will make some team very happy.

"People will love him if he's at Tampa or St. Louis," Kiffin said. "He'll be just like Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks or Mike Alstott. He'll be sitting there signing autographs for people all day."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Left tackle Donald Penn was given a first- and third-round tender ($3.168 million). Linebacker Barrett Ruud was given a first- and third-round tender ($3.268 million). But right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was given a tender for his original second-round draft pick ($1.759 million).

By placing the highest possible tenders on Penn and Ruud, and the second-highest on Williams, it will make it virtually impossible for those players to leave as restricted free agents. Not only do the Bucs own the right of first refusal on any offer sheet they may sign with another team, they could demand a combination of high draft picks as compensation of they chose not to match.

Penn has been seeking a long-term extension and is dismayed by the tender, according to his agent.

"They're basically admitting he is one of the best tackles in the league," agent Rocky Arceneaux told The St. Petersburg Times. "I think this is ridiculous."

--The Jacksonville Jaguars won a coin toss with the Chicago Bears Thursday, meaning the 2010 second-round pick the Bucs obtained from Chicago for Gaines Adams is 42nd overall instead of 44th.

--Raheem Morris said he was confident in his abilities but relieved after a meeting with the Glazers following the season.

"The way we work, and the way I've always known the Glazers to work, is we always meet at the beginning of the season, we always meet midway in the season and we always meet at the end," Morris said. "Which is fair. It's always good conversation. Tell me what you need, what you think. And they do like most bosses do, they oblige when they can and deny when they have to.

"I got no problem with the way they work. At the end of the season, they came to me and said, "Hey, Rah, you're our guy. Don't worry about it. Go coach. Move on."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll still burn the midnight oil." - Bucs GM Mark Dominik on the start of free agency.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

OFFSEASON STRATEGY

GM Mark Dominik already has lowered expectations regarding free agency. That's particularly true without an extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Many of the Bucs' players will be restricted free agents - including LT Donald Penn, RT Jeremy Trueblood and LB Barrett Ruud - unless there is an agreement.

The Bucs tendered Penn and Ruud at a first- and third-round draft pick. They also tendered WR Maurice Stovall at his original third-round choice.

Tampa Bay owns the No. 3 overall pick. Their hope is that the Rams select a quarterback No. 1 overall, meaning either Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy would fall to them. Otherwise, the Bucs might be leaning toward taking Tennessee S Eric Berry.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive line: The Bucs allowed nearly 160 yards per game rushing last season, primarily because they were beaten at the point of attack. Jimmy Wilkerson is recovering from a torn ACL. Chris Hovan is past his prime. Stylez G. White is a third-down rusher. With the third overall selection, they should be in position to draft an elite player.

2. Wide receiver: The Bucs did not franchise WR Antonio Bryant, and they reportedly won't offer him a new contract. Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said they want to build around Josh Freeman. But players like Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall will not help him very much.

3. Cornerback: Ronde Barber is 34. The Bucs want to continue to press receivers when possible. They have a shutdown corner in Aqib Talib. They need another one. But safety is an issue, too, so the Bucs could draft Tennessee S Eric Berry with the No. 3 overall pick.

MEDICAL WATCH: LB Geno Hayes had surgery to repair a torn labrum and will miss four months. He will return in June. DE Jimmy Wilkerson is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL. P Josh Bidwell is recovering from surgery on his hip. T Xavier Fulton is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL. CB E.J. Biggers is recovering from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss his rookie season.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--S Will Allen is a valuable special-teams player who finished the season on injured reserve.

--WR Antonio Bryant struggled with a knee injury and had 600 yards receiving. The team will not attempt to re-sign him.

--LB Angelo Crowell.

--S Jermaine Phillips broke his hand and finished the year on injured reserve.

--DE Jimmy Wilkerson.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--WR Brian Clark (not tendered as RFA).

--LB Matt McCoy (not tendered as RFA).

--FB Byron Storer (not tendered as RFA) spent the year rehabbing his knee. He could be done.

--LB Rod Wilson (not tendered as RFA) is a special-teams player and backup middle linebacker.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)

--WR Mark Bradley (tendered at $1.809M with second-round pick as compensation).

--*OT Donald Penn (tendered at $3.168M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is a very capable left tackle and did his best the first weeks of 2009. But then he seemed to shut it down and gained weight.

--*LB Barrett Ruud (tendered at $3.268M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is a solid, if not flashy middle linebacker who thrives in the current system. The Bucs would like to see more nasty in his game.

--*WR Maurice Stovall (tendered at $1.176M with third-round pick as compensation) came on late in 2009 after injuries were experienced by Michael Clayton. He's a tall, rangy receiver.

--*OT Jeremy Trueblood (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation), as the starting right tackle, led the Bucs in penalties against last season.

--*RB Cadillac Williams (tendered at $2.299M with first-round picks as compensation) was the Bucs' most inspirational player who played in all 16 games despite tearing previously the patellar tendon in both knees.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.

PLAYERS LOST

--P Josh Bidwell (released).

--CB Torrie Cox (released).

--P Dirk Johnson (released).

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