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Pewter Report editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds takes a look at five disappointments that came out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2004 preseason.
1. SEMI-AUTOMATICA – While the local newspapers prematurely heralded the return to form of Buccaneers kicker Martin Gramatica of “Automatica” (see “Gramatica kicks off a rebound” in the St. Pete Times 8/20/04), Pewter Report was a bit more cautious in its reporting. It turns out, that was the right approach as Gramatica’s once promising preseason – he started off 4-of-5 on field goal attempts (80 percent) – has disintegrated into a 6-of-10 (60 percent) performance.
All four of Gramatica’s misses have been between 40-49 yards during the preseason. In fact, Tampa Bay’s kicker is just 3-of-7 (42.8 percent) on field goal attempts past the 40-yard line in the exhibition games. Gramatica is coming off a disappointing 2003 season in which he went 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) on field goal attempts. While Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is hopeful and optimistic, a slumping kicker is not great news for a team that failed to average 14 points of offense per game in the preseason.
2. JUST 3 POINTS IN FIRST QUARTER – In the June 19 edition of the SR’s Fab Five column on PewterReport.com, we reported on the fact that first quarter scoring was front and center on Gruden’s mind during the preseason after Tampa Bay’s offense scored a paltry 34 total points in the first quarter of all 16 games in 2003. By contrast, the team scored over 100 points in each of the second and third quarters last year. The Bucs failed to score a single point in the first quarter of 11 games last season, and were 5-6 in those contests. Gruden said the key to first quarter scoring is better field position on the team’s opening drives.
“Field position is big,” Gruden said. “Return a kickoff to mid-field. Get a three-and-out on defense and return a big punt return. Create some favorable field position. If you start a drive inside your 20, it’s a long way to go. Statistics don’t lie. It’s hard to do, to sustain an 80-yard scoring drive. Establishing field position is number one.”
Thanks to Frank Murphy’s 29-yard kick return average this preseason, the Bucs did achieve better starting field position, but that didn’t necessarily translate into points. In fact, Tampa Bay scored just three points in the first quarter the entire preseason, and that score came off of the team’s first drive against Cincinnati.
Here’s a breakdown of the Bucs’ starting field position on their initial drive in the first quarter during the 2004 preseason:
Tampa Bay 37 – Drive ended at the Cincinnati 2 with a field goal
Tampa Bay 28 – First pass was picked off by Jacksonville
Tampa Bay 20 – Drive ended with a missed field goal against Miami
Tampa Bay 42 – Drive ended with a three-and-out against Houston
Through four games, the Bucs scored just three points in the first quarter, 26 points in the second quarter, and 17 points apiece in the third and fourth quarters.
3. LACK OF POINT PRODUCTION – Although the Buccaneers finished the preseason with a 3-1 record, they did not achieve any of those wins by blowouts. The lack of point production has to be a concern at One Buccaneer Place, especially with all of the offseason revamping done on the offensive side of the ball. But to be fair, two of the team’s additions counted on to produce more explosive plays – wide receiver Joey Galloway and running back Charlie Garner – hardly played in the preseason.
The most points Tampa Bay’s offense scored in the preseason was 20 in the opener against Cincinnati. That was followed up with 6 points at Jacksonville, 10 points (Ryan Nece’s INT return for a TD came on defense) against Miami and 17 points at Houston.
While the Bucs generally had no problems moving the football in August, the team only averaged 13.25 points per game on offense in the exhibition season. One has to hope that Gruden’s playcalling was pure vanilla in the preseason, and that this is not a sign of things to come during the regular season.
4. SOFT IN THE MIDDLE? – On the stats sheet, Tampa Bay’s run defense appeared pretty solid in the preseason. The Bucs surrendered just 297 yards on 102 carries (2.9 avg. yards per carry) on the ground in the preseason, or only 74 yards per game. But Tampa Bay’s opponents had success running on the Bucs right off the bat in all four preseason games.
In the opener against the Bengals, tailback Rudi Johnson gashed the Bucs defense for runs of 8 and 9 yards to start the game. At Jacksonville, Fred Taylor had runs of 4 and 8 yards on his first two carries. The Dolphins’ Travis Minor reeled off rushes of 4 and 12 yards on his first two totes. And at Houston, Dominick Davis rambled for 8 yards on his first carry.
To the Bucs’ credit, they made the necessary adjustments most of the time in the preseason and played better against the run as the games progressed. But did they also get some help from their opponents who went away from the early success they had with the run to evaluate other talent or work on their passing game?
Tampa Bay played most of the preseason without Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, and starting middle linebacker Shelton Quarles didn’t play a down due to his fractured forearm. Having those two back on opening day at Washington should greatly help the Bucs slow down Clinton Portis.
But Keith Burns (10 tackles) and Jeff Gooch (6 tackles), who saw extensive action at middle linebacker in Quarles’ absence, showed in the preseason why they have reputations as special teams aces – not starting-caliber linebackers. Neither player made you forget about Quarles.
One other note on the middle of the Bucs defense. More often than not when opponents were running up the middle for positive yardage against Tampa Bay’s first-string defense, foes were double-teaming under tackle Anthony McFarland and single-blocking nose tackle Chartric Darby to successfully open the running lane. That’s not the way defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin draws up his defense.
Darby is supposed to draw the center into a double team by playing the one technique by lining up inside the shoulder of the guard in the “A” gap between the guard and the center, but opponents are preferring to block the undersized, 270-pound Darby one-on-one. The Bucs elected not to keep 320-pound Oliver Gibson around because he was not an ideal fit in the Tampa 2 defense, leaving only unproven journeyman Damien Gregory around as Darby’s backup at nose tackle. That move may come back to bite the Bucs this year as they have to face premier NFL rushers like Portis, Seattle’s Shaun Alexander, Carolina’s Stephen Davis, New Orleans’ Deuce McAllister, Kansas City’s Priest Holmes and San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson.
5. INJURIES DISRUPT CHEMISTRY, CONTINUITY – The bad news for the Bucs this preseason was that the injury bug bit early and often in training camp, causing several players to miss practice time and playing time in the exhibition games. The good news for the Bucs is that hardly any of the injuries were severe.
Receiver Joe Jurevicius has been battling knee and back injuries this offseason and will be shelved until after the sixth game of the season. But wideout Charles Lee returned from a torn hamstring in time to play in the preseason finale and secure a roster spot.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line is a different story. Insiders will tell you that the Bucs’ starting front five should have been left tackle Derrick Deese, left guard Matt O’Dwyer, center John Wade, right guard Matt Stinchcomb and right tackle Todd Steussie before injuries struck. O’Dwyer is on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list and will be out at least six more weeks, and Deese has missed most of training camp and three preseason games with an ailing foot that required surgery. Steussie has also been bothered a bit by a sore knee.
These injuries have slowed the developing chemistry of the offensive line this preseason. However, the byproducts of these injuries have been the emergence of left tackle Anthony Davis and the elevated game of guard Cosey Coleman, who has secured a starting spot at right guard opposite Stinchcomb, who missed half of the preseason with a calf injury.
The Bucs offensive line should be better and more talented than a year ago, but the injuries in preseason will cause this unit to develop continuity over the month of September rather than the month of August.
UP NEXT: Pewter Report takes a look at the Bucs’ five positives from the 2004 preseason on Wednesday on PewterReport.com.
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