TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Najee Goode has never doubted himself, going from walk-on linebacker at West Virginia to fifth-round NFL draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs continued to rebuild one of the NFL’s worst defenses Saturday, selecting Goode and then adding his college teammate, cornerback Keith Tandy, in the sixth round. Tampa Bay closed out their first draft under coach Greg Schiano by taking Utah State running back Michael Smith and Northwestern tight end Drake Dunsmore in the seventh round.
“We got better this weekend,” Schiano said, adding that it’s still far too early to say how much better.
The Bucs went 4-12 in 2011, ending the season on a 10-game losing streak.
“We’re a work in progress. I don’t know. I wish I could have one of those thermometer’s that go up when you’re doing a fundraiser, saying we’re getting better and better and better,” Schiano said. “You won’t know until we hit the field and start competing with other teams. But I can feel a sense of: ‘Hey, we’re moving this thing forward.'”
Goode was the 140th pick overall, and the first player selected by Tampa Bay on Saturday. A high school quarterback, the 6-foot, 244-pound native of Cleveland arrived at West Virginia in 2008 as a walk-on hoping to do well enough to eventually earn a scholarship.
His father, John, was a tight end at Youngstown State and fifth-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984.
“It was a long shot. I was hoping and praying for it, and I just kept working hard,” Goode said, recalling how he felt about the prospect for playing in the NFL when he began his college career. “Now that it’s here, I still can’t believe it. I’m so excited and ready to get to work.”
The Bucs didn’t have a fourth-round pick after sending it to Houston as part of a trade that enabled Tampa Bay to move up to the second round and select Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David.
Counting Goode and Tandy, who were roommates at West Virginia, four of Tampa Bay’s first five selections were defensive players. Alabama safety Mark Barron and Boise State running back Doug Martin were taken by Tampa Bay in the first round on Thursday.
Goode played middle and outside linebacker at West Virginia. He was second on the Mountaineers with 14 tackles for loss last season.
“I imagine they just want a hard-working player, hard-working athlete, a great linebacker,” Goode said. “I’m going to try to do my best, accomplish all those goals and make plays.”
He played in a 3-3-5 defensive scheme with the Mountaineers, but doesn’t anticipate any problems making the transition to Tampa Bay’s 4-3 alignment.
“Football is still going to be football, no matter what. Guys still are going to do certain things, regardless of what type of defense you’re playing,” said Goode, who became a full-time starter at West Virginia as a junior and finished his college career with two interceptions, eight sacks and 22 1-2 tackles for loss.
“When I first walked on, I was just trying to get to the next level. For me, that next level was getting a scholarship and playing hard,” Goode said. “After I got there, the next level was to become a consistent starter and a good leader. Once I did that, it was keep improving and maybe have the possibility of playing in the NFL.”
Tandy, the 174th player selected overall, was a three-year starter at West Virginia. He had 13 career interceptions for the Mountaineers.
“I’m real excited. It’s a team I’ve followed growing up … and the fact that Najee, my roommate, is going there makes it that much better,” Tandy said, adding that the close friends exchanged several text messages while the draft was progressing Saturday.
“After he got drafted, I congratulated him,” the cornerback said. ‘And then after I got drafted, he actually called me while I was on the phone with coach Schiano.”
Smith was a backup running back at Utah State, but averaged 7.1 yards per carry. He had two 100-yard rushing performances in 2011. Dunsmore had 45 receptions for 522 yards and six touchdowns in his final season at Northwestern.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said he felt the team met its main objective over the three days.
“We were looking for tough, smart, good character football players. Guys who when you watch the tape you feel them. They’re able to either make plays with their speed or precision, or they’re physical football players,” the GM said. “I wanted us to become a much more physical team, and I think we did that. We wanted to become a smarter team, and I think we did that.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.