C Matt Lehr One of the more intriguing battles heading into Tampa Bay’s training camp this year was at the center position, where John Wade, Matt Lehr and Dan Buenning were expected to fight for the right to see playing time. Last week, Wade, who has been Tampa Bay’s opening day starter since 2003, started at center against New England. However, against Jacksonville on Saturday night, Lehr got the nod with the first-team offense. Unfortunately for Lehr, who joined the Bucs as a free agent during the offseason, he might have played himself out of a starting job and possibly a roster spot vs. the Jaguars. On Tampa Bay’s first drive of the game, Lehr had a high snap, but quarterback Jeff Garcia managed to pull the ball down and execute the play. Later in the first quarter, Lehr and Garcia had a mishap with the quarterback/center exchange, which resulted in a fumble. Luckily for the Bucs, a penalty negated that play. But the quarterback/center exchange woes lingered into the second quarter when Lehr got a low snap off to QB Luke McCown. That poor snap disrupted the play and caused McCown to throw an incomplete pass. Not only did he struggle to get the ball to the quarterback, Lehr also had trouble opening holes in the running game.
WR Maurice Stovall Tampa Bay’s offense had momentum and was driving into Jacksonville territory in the second quarter when Bucs quarterback Luke McCown connected with wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who started at the Z (flanker) wide receiver spot for the second straight week on Saturday night. Stovall made a move and attempted to work his way up field for extra yardage when two Jacksonville defenders wrapped him up and brought him to the turf, but not before causing the second-year receiver to fumble the ball. That mistake allowed defensive back Jamaal Fudge to recover the loose ball and return it all the way to Tampa Bay’s 5-yard line before McCown chased him down and dragged him out of bounds. Tampa Bay’s defense managed to hold Jacksonville to a field goal, which gave the Jags a 10-7 lead, but Jacksonville gained momentum and wound up taking a 24-7 lead into halftime. That was Stovall’s only catch of the game, and it went for just 5 yards.
S Donte Nicholson Bucs safety Donte Nicholson had a rough outing vs. the Jaguars on Saturday night. He missed several tackles, including one that proved to be very costly. In the third quarter on a third-and-7 play with the Jaguars backed up deep in their own territory, Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard threw a pass out to tight end George Wrighster in the flat. Nicholson did a nice job of closing in on Wrighster, but he whiffed on his attempt to tackle him, which allowed Wrighster to pick up a key first down. Jacksonville’s offense went on to put together a 14-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that saw Garrard complete 6-of-6 pass attempts. Nicholson finished the game with three tackles.
FB Byron Storer Bucs fullback Byron Storer had problems catching the football on Saturday night, but what else is new? Storer’s pass-catching woes plagued him throughout training camp, and his two drops vs. the Jags proved to be costly. After a 53-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Mark Jones in the fourth quarter, the Bucs attempted a two-point conversion. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski rolled out to his right and threw a perfect pass to Storer, who let the ball bounce right off of his hands for the incompletion and failed two-point attempt. Later in the fourth quarter after a 48-yard touchdown drive, the Bucs attempted yet another two-point conversion. Once again, Gradkowski rolled out to his right and attempted to buy himself time to throw while heading to the sideline before firing a pass to Storer in the end zone. Although it would not have been an easy catch, Storer could have caught the ball, but he didn’t. Storer won’t be sticking around in Tampa Bay for long. Head coach Jon Gruden can’t stomach dropped passes, even when they come from the fullback position.
LB Adam Hayward When a player leads the defense in tackles in a game, it usually means they had a solid outing. However, that was not the case for rookie linebacker Adam Hayward, who registered five tackles but struggled on Saturday night. In the second quarter, Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich threw a pass across the middle to running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Hayward put himself in position to make the tackle, but he failed to wrap him up and bring him down. Instead, Jones-Drew got away from Hayward and picked up 38 yards on the play before rookie safety Sabby Piscitelli knocked him out of bounds at the 2-yard line. One play later, running back Fred Taylor punched the ball into the end zone for a score, which tied the game at 7 all. Late in the second quarter, Hayward filled his gap on a perimeter rushing play to the left side of the field, but he did not show good awareness as running back LaBrandon Toefield ran right by him for an 8-yard score. That run capped off a seven-play, 60-yard drive.
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