Trying to read between the lines with Bucs’ Licht

by Gary Shelton on April 15, 2016 · 0 comments

in general

Thursday, 6 a.m.

He will tell you why busts bust. He will tell you how linebackers differ from the old days. He will tell you about grading character.

But Jason Licht will not tell you who his team is drafting in the upcoming NFL draft. He won't even hint.

Around him, there are hundreds of mock drafts by hundreds of writers who have no access to anyone who is employed by an NFL team. There is guesswork galore. But Licht, one of the few guys who has a clue which way his team might go, is not one of them.

Licht, the close-lipped general manager of the Tampa Bay Bucs, met with the media on Thursday and, pretty much, told them nothing. Hey,

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he was pleasant about it. But he wasn't there to discuss state secrets.

It is one of the biggest days in sports, that day when whoever is running the Bucs gets together to tell them nothing at all. The Bucs could have the first eight picks in the draft, and Licht wouldn't whisper the names of any of them. It's as if spies are in the hallway and secret agents are in the bathroom.

Licht says his team might draft in the ninth position, where it is. He said it might move backward. He said it might move up. If he had thought about it, he would have mentioned the possibility of moving sideways.

Of course, Licht is not the problem here. It's the entire NFL that turns into a game of liar's poker. Give a team its choice, and it wouldn't announce its first-round pick until the middle of the second round. Not that the team won't be simply thrilled to find out that he was still available. Gasp. Can you believe it?

Oh, the Bucs' pick shouldn't be that hard to figure out. Not really. It won't be a quarterback, and it won't be a running back, and it won't be a wide receiver. Despite some of the mock drafts you see, it probably won't be an offensive tackle, because the team likes Donovan Smith a lot more than the critics – who don't know the play call – seem to like him. It won't be a tight end.

It won't be a linebacker, and it won't be a kicker.

So what does that leave? Well, the Bucs would be delighted if it was a defensive end. They might settle for a cornerback, which would be more important under Mike Smith than Lovie, who liked to play his corners so deep they could have fielded punts. The team may have to settle for a defensive tackle.

Got it?

For the record, I like Licht. I think he did a good job last year (of course, he picked first). I'm just amused by the draft game, where right now, some guy is diligently working on his eighth mock draft of the month, even though no one has played and no one has talked. But readers eat mock drafts up, so mocking the outsiders will do.

Want a few clues from Licht.

No, he isn't concerned about Vernon Hargreaves' height. “I like good football players. I like strong football players, I like playmakers. No, I’m not concerned.”

Yes, you can get to the quarterback from defensive tackle, even though the Bucs are in much better shape there than at end. “The goal defensively is always to affect the quarterback. You usually think of the front four doing that, but there’s other ways of doing it. If you really like watching, I know it’s just one game, but if you watched the Super Bowl last year – Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware had their share of success there, but really the interior pressure had a big, big effect on that game, so there are other ways to do it. We all want a great defensive end, or two, or three, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.”

This draft is a pretty good one. “There are a lot of good players in this draft. We have to prepare to take a player there, we have to prepare to – a situation of moving back, we have to prepare for situations that might come up where we’re enticed to move up. This is a very good draft, the more that we dig into it and the more meetings we have, the more tape we watch. It’s very deep at certain positions – a lot of positions.”

On whether the hiring of Mike Smith as defensive coordinator might change the type of player the Bucs want: ““There’s little modifications in every defense that some coordinators or defensive staffs, head coaches, maybe stress one position over another or a certain type of player whether it’s size, or whether it’s a certain skill set that a certain position has, that they stress over another. We’re still looking for really good football players at the end of the day. I know it sounds vanilla, but from my chair, from our scouts, we’re looking for great football players that have a great mindset and have what we call the ‘Buc Mentality.'”

On charater concerns: “We’re not going to drop a guy down because he has ten jaywalking tickets. We’ve all made mistakes growing up. It gets back to – and I’ve probably said it too many times – but there’s a difference between a bad guy and an immature guy.”

On the bust factor: “Ninety percent of busts, in my opinion, are because of something above the neck. All those things that you just said: work ethic, passion for football, interests that aren’t good for a football player, bad teammate – those types of things. That’s where most of the busts come from. You need to make sure that you’re hitting on the player, but then you’re also hitting on the person.”

“We have several players every year that we turn upside down on the draft board, that we wouldn’t take.”

On repeating the success of finding four starters out of last year's draft: “We always strive for that. I want to do better than we did last year, so does my staff. Mike Biehl and John Spytek now, they do a great job leading these scouts, doing a lot of work, trying to unearth these guys that we think that maybe have some sort of arbitrage that they’ll be available later for one reason or another. We’re confident that we can do it. To get four starters out of a draft is pretty good, hats off to those guys for everything they did. We strive every year to do better than we did the year before.”

And so it went. Licht was engaging, and he was talkative. He was not, however, particularly forthcoming. Every year, it gets harder to get even a morsel of information.

Still, even if the Bucs get a couple of potential big-time players, this draft will be a success.

If not, another g.m. might be holding the press conference.


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