Break Out The Brooms, It’s Sweep Time

Well, well, well…the Rays.  What better could they have done this
weekend against the Red Sox?  Not much from what I saw.  They kicked
the Red Sox (and all their infiltrating fans) right out of Tropicana
Field with a three-game sweep, highlighted by excellent pitching and
some timely hitting.  Saturday night’s game saw Edwin Jackson pitch
extremely well, but still leave down 1-0 against a dominating Clay
Buchholz.  After a pinch-hit single from Dioner Navarro put the tying
run on base in the eighth inning, Akinori Iwamura–one time Japan’s
home run champion–blasted a 1-1 hanger from Buchholz over the right
field wall for his first home run of 2008
The offense lacked a lot of hits or walks, but still escaped with a
win.  That’s what championship teams do–if they aren’t on top of their
game one way or another, they find ways to escape in victory.  They
completed the sweep in an excellent game today, the best pitching
performance in the young career of James Shields.  A complete game
shutout (2 H, 1 BB, 7 K) of the powerful World Champions highlighted
the day, as Josh Beckett gave up two runs, one a home run by Evan
Longoria (who was also a defensive wizard), before Manny Delcarmen allowed Jason Bartlett to score (after
he was hit in the head by a pitch) on a Carl Crawford double that was
almost a triple.  Beckett was good, but Shields was absolutely
phenomenal and had his A+ game all day today.  Cheers times six for the
Rays piling on a winning streak that has vaulted them into a
first-place tie in their division.  And we get Scott Kazmir back next
weekend at Fenway Park.  Then there’s no telling where this team is
headed.

Yes, I know this is a Rays/baseball blog, but I would also like to add
a bonus for those who may care…the 2008 NFL Draft.  Football is my
other favorite sport, and of course the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are my
team.  So I figured that here and now were as good a time and place as
any to briefly break down their draft picks.  So here we go with your
NFC South Champions:

1.  Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas – This guy was considered the premier
shutdown cornerback in college football last season.  He is 6’1″ and
can get physical in addition to his coverage skills.  As Ronde Barber
gets older and Brian Kelly is gone, Talib is coming in competing for a
starting job as a rookie.  And he can return punts, too, if need be. 
On the flip side, he admitted to marijuana use in college, which can be
alienating in today’s NFL.  I don’t think it’s a huge concern, so I
think he’ll be a good player from day one and the off-field issues will not derail
him, especially with the way Roger Goodell lays the hammer down on troublemakers in his league.

2.  Dexter Jackson, WR/KR, Appalachian State – As I sat in front
of the TV during the second round, I said, “It would be nice to get
that guy, Dexter Jackson from Appalachian State…why isn’t anybody
talking about this guy?”  And then, out of nowhere, the Bucs took him
at 58th overall.  I saw him in that infamous Michigan game, running
right up the middle and killing that defense with pure speed.  He’s an
NCAA track and field champion whose speed alone can make him a huge
returner in this league.  Undersized at 5’9″, he may be best suited to
occasionally hide out in the slot and split the defense for big gains. 
They’re looking for their Devin Hester, and while he may not be on that
level, he’ll at least serve as a compliment to Talib and Micheal
Spurlock.  One more ironic note that could score him a few karma points: he shares his name with safety Dexter Jackson, the Super Bowl XXXVII MVP from the Bucs.

3.  Jeremy Zuttah, OG, Rutgers – A tackle in college, this guy
is known for his versatility.  He can play anywhere on the offensive
line, so in case anyone goes down, the Bucs will have a good third
round guy to plug in.  He’s a perfect pick to add depth to a good, and
improving, offensive line featuring two 2006 day one picks, Luke
Petitgout returning at left tackle, and new free agent signee center
Jeff Faine.

4.  Dre Moore, DT, Maryland – Moore would have been picked
higher if he was more consistent in college, but he does have the
natural abilities and tools that could make him a key defender.  At
6’4″ and 305 pounds with both strength and speed for his size, he’ll be
a good addition to a line featuring a few good defensive ends, notably
Gaines Adams, last year’s first round pick.  He could be more motivated
at this level, and thus become the force the Buccaneers have lacked
since they lost Anthony McFarland.

5.  Josh Johnson, QB, San Diego – A small school quarterback
gets the fifth round pick.  Johnson is called a good scrambler who can
improvise, but not a great passer.  Those skills could be honed and,
best case scenario, he can be a future starter.  While they claim that he may not be a great passer, check out these 2007 stats: 43 touchdowns, 1 interception.  I don’t care which college this was at, that’s the greatest ratio I’ve ever seen.  He was also the Offensive MVP in the East-West Shrine Game.  With Jeff Garcia aging
and no really young QBs on the roster (except Bruce Gradkowski, who has
almost run out of chances), he could learn as a backup and get good as a dual threat
with a little maturation if he does make the team, or even the practice
squad.

6.  Geno Hayes, LB, Florida State – The top player on the
Seminoles’ defense in 2007, this linebacker was a steal as a sixth
round draft choice.  Potentially a day one pick on some draft boards,
he slipped through teams that didn’t need him and fell right into Tampa
Bay’s pockets.  Hayes is 6’1″ and 235 pounds, and while he played on
the inside in college, he can be either an ILB or OLB at this level. 
Hayes looks like an excellent late-round pick, with Derrick Brooks
likely to retire before too long and a growing need for a third man to
play alongside Ryan Nece and Barrett Ruud.

7.  Cory Boyd, RB, South Carolina – This pick can be questioned
to some extent, but seeing as it was the seventh round, it can’t be
harped on.  Boyd played well in his senior season under Steve Spurrier,
rushing for over 900 yards.  If he’s better than the draft billing, he
could possibly make the team as the inside power runner that the Bucs
need.  With four speed guys (Earnest Graham, Michael Bennett, Carnell
Williams when he returns, and veteran Warrick Dunn) already on the
depth chart, he doesn’t have much of a chance.  Only if the need for a
Marion Barber-type runner emerges and roster space clears up, he might
play.  Otherwise, he might want to put on a little weight and try out
for the Tampa Bay Storm.

The Bucs only missed one need–a big possession wide receiver that Jon
Gruden covets.  Hopefully Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton have big
enough years to fill that gap.  Not to mention Joey Galloway and all
these rookies.  I think they had a good draft this year, better than
most people think.  They can easily, with the combination of
slowly-aging older players and increasing youth, contend for another
NFC South championship.  Good luck to all these guys, and I’ll see them
in July.

Now it’s time to get back to more relevant news for this blog, such
as…baseball.  The Rays are tied for first place in their division
thanks to the winning streak, and now we can ride the wave of momentum
to uncharted territory.  They should make unlike the Braves in this
weekend’s series against the Mets and keep sticking it to all rival
teams until they wave white flags and their fans stop attending our
home games.  Well, that’s the best case scenario, but I’m pushing for
it as a more optimistic fan.  So until next time, go first place Rays.

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