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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs coaches focusing on combine first, then free agency

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 03:21 PM
INDIANAPOLIS -

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan was still in the process Wednesday of getting to know some of the players that will be part of the team's 2012 defense when his attention was diverted to a group of players that could be a part of it.

The occasion was the start of the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins in earnest today at Lucas Oil Stadium and is the first of two necessary diversions that will take Sheridan and the rest of the Bucs' coaches away from the job of getting to know the players already at One Buc Place.

The other is free agency, which starts on March 13. But first, Tampa Bay will focus on how to make the best use of its 2012 draft picks, which include the fifth overall selection.

"Right now, we're concentrating on getting ready for the combine, and then when we come back free agency will be a priority,'' Sheridan said during his introductory news conference on Tuesday.

"At that time, (general manager) Mark (Dominik) and (head coach) Greg (Schiano) and I will start talking about defensive needs and our current roster and where the needs are and how we'll address free agency. But our biggest sense of urgency now is to go down to Indianapolis and try to make the best use of the four or five days we're in town there and evaluate the draft prospects.''

It is a critical evaluation process.

Though Dominik has vowed to be "more active'' in free agency than a year ago, when the biggest outside signing was punter Michael Koenen, the Bucs are still a team dedicated to building through the draft. Schiano believes in drafting and developing players.

At his introductory news conference in January, Schiano offered up some hints as to which way the Bucs could go both in the draft and free agency.

"On the field what is it going to look like? We want to play great defense, win the special teams battle and be a physical offensive football team that takes shots down the field,'' Schiano said.

"It is very hard to (put together) 12-, 13- and 14- play drives. So, we want to run the football physically and take shots down the field. As long as you play great defense and win the kicking game, that formula works.''

Schiano's emphasis on running the ball physically has led some, such as NFL draft expert Mel Kiper, to predict the Bucs will spend their first pick on Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

Others, though, consider the possibility of losing Ronde Barber to retirement or free agency, and Aqib Talib to a jail sentence or NFL suspension, and say Tampa Bay will take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

There also is the chance the Bucs will trade the fifth pick and move down in the draft order to acquire more premium picks. Coming off 4-12 season, anything seems possible because the Bucs have plenty of needs.

There's a need, NFL scout and analyst Mike Mayock said, for a vertical threat at wide receiver, improved play at outside linebacker and safety and depth along the offensive line and running back.

Butch Davis, the former University of Miami, North Carolina and Cleveland Browns coach who was hired as a special assistant to Schiano, will have a role in the evaluation process at the combine.

"I am going to be in the room (when we conduct our interviews with the prospects),'' Davis said last week. "How intimately involved, that will be decided by Mark and Greg.''

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