Quincy Black Has Improved

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In the 2007 NFL draft there was no player I was more excited to see nabbed by the Buccaneers than Quincy Black, the OLB from the University of New Mexico.  Upon ending his college campaign with a very good statistical year he went into the combine and simply awed.  I knew he was fast, but at 6-2 and 240 pounds, the mass of man ripped through the 40 yard dash in 4.42 seconds.  That's an unholy amount of speed for a linebacker, especially one of that size.  To further establish his physical prowess, Black posted a 41.5 inch vertical leap which bested every other player who attempted it.  To think that a linebacker could have the highest jump at the combine, over wide receivers and cornerbacks, was astounding.  Black's size with his borderline unfair athleticism had me beaming when he was picked up in the third round.  Then he disappeared for two years.

 
He didn't literally evaporate, he was behind Cato Junewho performed well.  I say that he disappeared because I wanted to see him more, not because he played poorly.  Throughout the 07' and 08' seasons I actively looked for him while he was on the field for special teams, yet there was very little to see.  For whatever reason he didn't appear play as fast as his 40 time would indicate.  My thought at the time was he had to undergo the same acclimation process that all new players do.  Some players are 'too fast' to perform well in the NFL immediately since they grow accustomed to relying on their speed instead of implementing it as they develop themselves into a better player.  The phrase often heard is "You may be fast in college, but everyone is fast in the NFL."  Quincy suffered from the same affliction that many speedy players do upon transitioning. 
 

Other factors were present, however, to the young defender's lack of progression.  He seemed hesitant during the games.  When Black went in for a tackle he wouldn't use his legs to drive through the ball carrier and power him to the ground.  For the most part, his tackles were flaccid and without conviction.

Suddenly, June was released and Quincy lurched into the starting lineup.  The player that had me fawning over him for his pure ability became a source of worry.  I feared he could turn into a weakness to be exploited.  On paper the man is a hell of a lot faster than he should be and can jump with anyone in the league- his pass coverage should make him a phenom.  Throughout the first half of the season he was often out of place and out played.  Slot receivers ran by him, tight ends around him, and he took some bad angles trying to stop the run.  I was unenthused with the team as a whole, but the bright young players gave everyone a reason to follow closely.  By the midpoint of the season, I was on the verge of losing interest in Quincy Black entirely.

Fortunately, Jim Bates was relieved of his duties and Morris threw the team back into the Tampa 2 scheme.  A good amount of players were out of shape since Bates' scheme had them gain sloppy weight, but they began to make plays.  I started to notice Black.  He had a fantastic game against both Atlanta and Miami in the second half.  Against the Dolphins he managed his first career pick as he deftly maneuvered to adjust for a ball thrown behind him at a critical moment in the game (heartbreaking loss).  Black was everywhere in Atlanta, gathering his highest tackle total of the season and his professional career to date.  He began to block more passes and accrue more tackles.  His play improved with the change in scheme coupled with his experience.

I thought there was something I may have missed in the first half of the season and had to go back to see a few of his games.  Washington in particular stuck out.  Black sacked Jason Campbell and had a good amount of tackles.  He looked comfortable in his best start up to that point, and elements of his game began to coalesce in later appearances.  Down the line he began to hit harder, look smoother.  Now in practice he's apparently been caught hitting too hard.  Once the comfort level peaks, so will the level of performance.

Black is poised for a stellar season.  Everyone is excited about the new defensive line and the aid they will extend to Ruud, but it would be remiss to forget that both of the other linebackers will be helped by this as well.  Morris plans to use more Under formations which places Black on the line and in prime position to rush the quarterback with the use of his natural attributes.  This leads me to believe that his sack total for the season is going to spike.

According to http://www.joebucsfan.com/?p=33321, the young linebacker also admitted to "coasting" his first seasons of the league.  As indicated before, sometimes players can be too athletic for their own good, and Black succumbed to the path of least resistance.  He picked up the pace and has been performing well in the preseason workouts up to this point.  The coaching staff purged the obvious poison and Tampa injected their defense with new talent at positions that required attention.  This is the year for Black to put up some serious numbers and solidify himself in the future plans of the team.

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