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As players report to Tampa Bay’s 2007 training camp on Thursday, July 26, PewterReport.com lists the top 10 Buccaneers heading into training camp based on their offseason performance.
10. C MATT LEHR While starter John Wade, and the player Tampa Bay wants to start at center, Dan Buenning, were recovering from knee surgery, newcomer Matt Lehr did a superb job in the middle of the Bucs’ offensive line this offseason. Lehr is undersized, but like former Tampa Bay center Jeff Christy, he is mobile and has great technique. He has done his part to make the center a legitimate three-way race between he, Wade and Buenning. While Wade was able to take part in most of the offseason workouts, Buenning was held out of the team drills during the OTAs and mini-camps. If Lehr has an advantage heading into training camp it is that he is healthy and received a lot of work this offseason.
9. DE GREG SPIRES Spires got off to a slow start last year, but picked up his play at the end of the 2006 season. He appears ready to pick up where he left off and has made a solid impression on new defensive line coach Larry Coyer. Despite the addition of veteran defensive lineman Kevin Carter, Spires remains the starter at left defensive end, yet he will likely split time with Carter on the left edge of the defense depending on the looks Coyer wants to give to opposing offenses. Spires is also stout enough to hold up as a two-gap defensive end in the Bucs’ 3-4 defense.
8. FS WILL ALLEN The return of defensive backs coach Raheem Morris has had a profound impact on Allen’s offseason. Allen is playing with a greater deal of confidence and has shown better technique in the OTAs and mini-camp. He has also become more of a vocal leader in the secondary. Allen will have a challenge on his hands holding off rookie Tanard Jackson, who, along with fellow rookie safety Sabby Piscitelli, came very close to making this list.
7. DT DARRELL CAMPBELL Campbell was one of the most impressive players this offseason, virtually coming out of nowhere to take reps as the team’s starting under tackle on more than one occasion. Campbell was beating out Jovan Haye, Ellis Wyms and Greg Peterson until he suffered a lower leg injury just prior to the mandatory mini-camp. The Bucs are hoping the big, quick Campbell can get healthy and regain his momentum when training camp begins on July 27. Keep an eye on this Buccaneer at Disney’s Wide World of Sports this summer.
6. NT CHRIS HOVAN Hovan has taken his game up a notch this offseason – both on and off the field. On the field, Hovan leads by example by being one of the hardest-working players on the team. Hovan has great technique and is working on his lateral quickness and honing his pass rushing moves to become a more effective QB harasser. He has also attacked the weight room with voraciousness this offseason and is in great shape. Hovan wants to become a more vocal leader this year, too, and that was evident at some of the OTAs and mini-camps.
5. WR DAVID BOSTON Boston looks healthier and faster this offseason than he was a year ago at training camp. He has made great progress in coming back from knee surgery from two years ago. Boston is playing with confidence in his knee, evidenced by more hard cuts when running routes, and confidence in the system, due to the fact that he has been with the Bucs for two offseasons. Boston was dominant at times in practice and is actually in position to win a starting job opposite Joey Galloway.
4. WR MAURICE STOVALL Boston hasn’t been the only promising wide receiver this offseason at One Buccaneer Place. Stovall, who is in his second year in Tampa Bay, has shown clutch hands and has a better grasp of the playbook. Stovall is a big, fluid target that took some reps as a starter opposite Galloway at times during the summer. Like Boston, Stovall could win the number two wide receiver job and unseat Michael Clayton. In fact, he might be the favorite.
3. CB PHILLIP BUCHANON Buchanon continued his maturation in the Tampa 2 this offseason. He came a long way during the second half of the season in 2006 after being a mid-season pickup by the Buccaneers. By the end of the 2006 campaign, Buchanon had beat out Juran Bolden for the starting job at left cornerback and finished the season with a pair of interceptions. Buchanon’s sticky fingers were on display in the offseason, and it is believed that he was the unofficial team leader in this area during the OTAs and mini-camps. Buchanon is all but assured of the nickel corner job, and could possibly beat out Brian Kelly for the starting assignment with a great preseason and training camp.
2. DE PATRICK CHUKWURAH The undersized, 6-foot-1, 250-pound speed rusher took advantage of Simeon Rice’s absence this offseason and started the majority of practices at right defensive end. Chukwurah is easily the fastest defensive end on the team with legit 4.4 speed. He may not appear to have the size to hold up physically against the run, but defensive line coach Larry Coyer, who coached Chukwurah in Denver, swears he’ll do just fine. Chukwurah figures to play on obvious passing downs as a situational pass rusher in Tampa Bay. He has a host of pass rush moves, including a deadly spin move, and could be the real X-factor in the Bucs’ pass rush this season.
1. QB JEFF GARCIA To be named the starting quarterback and unseat incumbent starter Chris Simms before training camp speaks to how far Garcia has come learning and executing Jon Gruden’s complicated offense. Garcia has already become the leader of the offense and has the respect of his teammates. At age 37, he still has the mobility to cause problems for defenses and the accuracy to move the chains in the passing game. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Garcia’s game is the fact that he threw very few interceptions in the offseason OTAs and mini-camps.
Check PewterReport.com tomorrow for the 10 Buccaneers whose stock is falling heading into training camp.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org