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FIVE MOST IMPRESSIVE BUCS lists the five players who impressed us in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 20-17 overtime win in the preseason opener at Tennessee. Punter Josh Bidwell definitely makes this list, but because he is this week’s MVP, we will focus on five other players who caught our attention for their solid play.

Davis has had an impressive training camp while getting the majority of reps at left tackle while Derrick Deese is out with a foot injury. The Bucs are expecting Davis to be their opening day starter at Minnesota, and his play in the preseason opener reaffirmed the team’s faith in him protecting Brian Griese’s blindside. Davis did a superb job of blocking defensive ends Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy in pass protection and in the running game. The Bucs ran a bunch of plays off left tackle behind the 6-foot-4, 329-pound Davis, including Earnest Graham’s 10-yard touchdown run that gave Tampa Bay a 7-0 lead in the first half. It’s difficult to say exactly how many yards the Bucs’ running backs gained behind Davis out of their total of 169 yards rushing, but it’s safe to say it was a lot.

Tonight, running back Earnest Graham showed why Bucs head coach Jon Gruden relied heavily on Michael Pittman last year instead of turning to Graham or Ian Smart last year after Charlie Garner went on injured reserve after Week 3. Gruden couldn’t trust anyone except Pittman in all three areas of playing halfback – running, receiving and pass protection. Graham had two instances of very poor pass protection tonight against Titans defensive end Antwan Odom, the second of which directly led to Chris Simms’ view being obstructed and his arm being hit while throwing an interception to linebacker Keith Bullock, that was returned for a touchdown. Graham also had a costly fumble on the Titans’ 27-yard line, but did enough to redeem himself by scoring two touchdowns and contributing a 24-yard dash in overtime to set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. Graham showed why he is in the mix at running back with 62 yards on 10 carries (6.2 avg), displaying a north-south running style was as he ran off left tackle for a 10-yard touchdown. Graham also hauled in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Chris Simms.

Watson has been generating a lot of buzz ever since this summer when Pewter Report targeted him as a training camp sleeper. He has dazzled during training camp with many sensational runs and translated that ability to Friday night’s prime time setting. In the third quarter, Watson reeled off a 24-yard run off left tackle on his first carry and wound up averaging 4.5 yards per carry with 63 yards on 14 opportunities. Four of those carries picked up first downs. Perhaps his most impressive play was throwing a great cut block on defensive end Kenny Smith, which allowed quarterback Chris Simms to scramble to his left and find Earnest Graham in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter.

The Bucs really wanted to see Jermaine Phillips force more turnovers, and that’s one of the reasons why they have moved him from free safety to strong safety this year. Phillips has only recorded one interception and one fumble recovery in first three years in the league, but if tonight is any indication, young safety may be poised to add more turnovers to his stats column. Phillips, who has had an outstanding training camp, picked off Steve McNair in the end zone just a couple of plays after making a vicious hit on the scrambling McNair. The most impressive thing about Phillips is the way he carries his 230 pounds. He is still lightning fast and really packs a punch when he hits.

Rudd, a rookie middle linebacker, did an outstanding job tonight in his first NFL action, leading the Buccaneers with six tackles on defense and recording a special teams stop, too. The scouting report on Ruud prior to the draft said that he had a nose for the ball and that he was always around the play. That was certainly the case tonight as number 51 was in the middle of all the action in the second and third quarters before giving way to Jermaine Taylor. Ruud displayed great speed and instincts on defense, and desire and hustle on special teams. Don’t be surprised if he leads Tampa Bay in special teams tackles in 2005. The Bucs had several standout performers at linebacker tonight, including Derrick Brooks (three tackles), Marquis Cooper (three tackles), Bam Hardmon (three tackles) and Taylor (two tackles), but Ruud stood out the most in Tennessee.

HONORABLE MENTION would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the impressive performances by kickers Todd France and Matt Bryant tonight in Tennessee. Both France and Bryant have been under tremendous scrutiny by the media, fans and Bucs coaching staff over several misses early in training camp. However, France nailed a 35-yarder to give the Bucs a 17-14 lead in the second half, while Bryant nailed the 33-yard game-winner in overtime. Both kickers did a superb job kicking off, too.

This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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