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QUARTERBACKS:
Tampa Bay starting QB Brad Johnson played two series and completed 4 of 8 passes for 50 yards. Johnson’s most impressive pass came on a third-and-11 play when he floated a pass down the right seam of the field to running back Michael Pittman for a 19-yard gain. Johnson got the Bucs in field goal range, but kicker Martin Gramatica couldn’t finish off the drive.

Brian Griese relieved Johnson in the first quarter and had a strong showing, completing a 27-yard pass down the sideline to wide receiver Bill Schroeder, a 12-yard pass to tight end Ken Dilger on third down and a play-action pass to TE Rickey Dudley for a 1-yard score in the second quarter. Despite having two passes dropped, including a fourth-and-1 play-action pass to Dudley, Griese completed 12 of 16 (75 percent) pass attempts for 110 yards and threw one touchdown against the Texans.

Chris Simms didn’t have a great effort against the Texans, but he wasn’t bad, either. Simms completed six of 10 (60 percent) of his passes for 73 yards and tossed one touchdown and one interception. Simms had an impressive 33-yard strike down the sideline to WR Charles Lee and a 6-yard play-action touchdown pass to TE Will Heller. Simms’ interception came in the fourth quarter when he attempted to pass down the sideline to Lee, who was covered pretty tightly on the play.

*Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks used several play-action pass attempts and a comfortable pocket to complete 22 of 34 (64.7 percent) passes for 233 yards and throw two touchdowns and one interception on Thursday night.

GRADE: B+


RUNNING BACKS:
Tailback Michael Pittman started in place of Charlie Garner, who was held out of the game for precautionary reasons. Although he will miss the first three games of the season due to suspension, Pittman received several touches and played into the third quarter. He carried the ball 12 times for 71 yards (5.9 avg.). His best run came in the third quarter when he broke two tackles and followed the lead blocks of offensive linemen Jeb Terry and Kerry Jenkins en route to gaining 27 yards on the carry. He also helped the offense move the chains in the passing game by catching three passes for 25 yards. Pittman’s biggest reception came on the second series of the game when he raced up the right seam of the field and beat Houston’s linebacker for a 19-yard reception from QB Brad Johnson.

Backup RB Earnest Graham saw significant action in the third and fourth quarter. He carried the ball 17 times for 54 yards (3.2 avg.). His longest run was a 8-yarder.

Jamel White rushed four times for 20 yards (4.0 avg.). Like Graham, White’s longest run was 8 yards.

Greg Comella saw significant time as a lead blocker and even caught one pass for five yards.

*Tampa Bay rushed 38 times for 147 yards (3.9 avg.) against Houston.

GRADE: B


WIDE RECEIVERS:
Although it was without Joey Galloway and Tim Brown, Tampa Bay’s wide receivers had a productive evening.

Rookie WR Michael Clayton, who started in place of Brown at the flanker (Z) position, caught a team-leading four passes for 58 yards (14.5 avg.). Clayton’s first reception came in the first quarter when QB Brad Johnson threw a perfect strike down the sideline to Clayton, who made a great grab for a 19-yard gain. That big catch came on a third-and-11 play. His longest reception of the game came on the last play of the second quarter when QB Brian Griese hit Clayton for a 27-yard gain before the rookie stepped out of bounds to avoid a defender with no time remaining in the half.

Charles Lee, who missed most of training camp and three exhibition contests due to a severe hamstring injury, made a strong push for a 53-man roster spot by hauling in three passes for 55 yards. All three of his receptions went for first downs and his last grab was perhaps the best one made on Thursday night. Toward the end of the third quarter, Lee stretched out near the sideline to catch a pass thrown by QB Chris Simms for a 33-yard gain. Lee wasn’t, however, as impressive as a blocker. He whiffed on a block on RB Michael Pittman’s 8-yard gain on a draw play in the second quarter.

Bill Schroeder, who started in place of Galloway at the split-end (X) position, only caught one pass, but it went for a 26-yard gain. That great play came in the second quarter on a perfectly pass thrown by Griese.

Danny Farmer had one catch for a 9-yard gain, but he also dropped a pass thrown by Griese in the first quarter.

*The Bucs converted 10-of-16 (62.5 percent) third down attempts vs. the Texans.

GRADE: A-


TIGHT ENDS:
Tampa Bay’s tight ends were very active in the passing game on Thursday night, catching a total of seven passes and two touchdowns.

Second-year TE Will Heller continued to impress by catching three passes for 19 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown reception from QB Chris Simms on a play-action pass play in the third quarter. He also did a nice job blocking.

Starting TE Ken Dilger caught two passes for 18 yards, including a 12-yarder that went for a first down in the first quarter.

Backup TE Rickey Dudley caught a 1-yard touchdown on a play-action pass from QB Brian Griese in the second quarter, but he dropped a huge fourth-and-1 pass from Griese later in the same quarter. The play was perfectly executed, but Dudley simply dropped the pass, which gave the Texans the ball. Houston would drive down the field and score a touchdown after Dudley’s drop. Dudley finished the game with two receptions for 3 yards.

Dave Moore dropped the only pass thrown to him during the game. The drop came in the flat and would’ve only went for a small gain had he caught it.

GRADE: B+


OFFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay’s offensive line reshuffled once again. Derrick Deese, who underwent foot surgery during training camp, made his first start at left tackle for the Bucs and looked rusty at times, which was expected by offensive line coach Bill Muir earlier in the week. Deese was also called for a false start in the first quarter and was eventually replaced by Anthony Davis, who looked solid again in both the running and passing game.

Matt Stinchcomb started at left guard and Cosey Coleman started at right guard. Todd Steussie started at right tackle for the Bucs while John Wade started again at center. Wade and Stinchcomb continue to be Tampa Bay’s most consistent blockers.

Backup T Kenyatta Walker didn’t make the trip to Houston and was left in Tampa due to what the team called a “sore knee.”

Second-year C Austin King saw significant playing time during the second half while second-year G/C Sean Mahan saw action as well.

Perhaps Tampa Bay’s two most impressive offensive linemen were guards Kerry Jenkins and Jeb Terry, who actually saw some playing time at right tackle against Houston. Both players were impressive, especially in the running game, where they opened up holes for RB Michael Pittman. Jenkins and Terry were lead blockers on Pittman’s 27-yard run in the third quarter. If he doesn’t secure a spot on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster, Jenkins certainly saved one of his best performances for last.

Tampa Bay’s offensive line provided all three quarterbacks with a good amount of time to throw and a good pocket to throw out of throughout Thursday night’s game vs. Houston. The Texans didn’t record a sack.

* The Bucs dominated the time of possession on Thursday night, 34:25 to 25:35.

GRADE: B+


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay starting under tackle Anthony McFarland was held out of the game for precautionary reasons. Chartric Darby got the start in his place while Ellis Wyms started at the nose tackle position. Greg Spires and Simeon Rice were the starting defensive ends.

Backup nose tackle Oliver Gibson seems to be settling in. He notched three tackles and recovered Texans QB Tony Banks’ fumble and returned it 10 yards to Houston’s 12-yard line in the second quarter. That great play set up TE Rickey Dudley’s 1-yard touchdown grab, which put the Bucs up 10-0.

Backup DT Cleveland PInkney made a strong push for a 53-man roster spot on Thursday night by notching three tackles and one sack, which he recorded in the fourth quarter.

Defensive ends Dewayne White and Josh Savage had decent showings. White played very aggressively and made two impressive tackles while sustaining good penetration. Savage, who played right end, had one tackle and one sack, which came in the second quarter. Savage finished the preseason with three sacks. He was also called for being offsides during the second quarter.

*Tampa Bay held Houston to 42 yards rushing on Thursday night.

GRADE: B+


LINEBACKERS:
Starting strongside linebacker Ian Gold continued to impress by coming up big in the second quarter. Gold blitzed off the right side of the line and did a great job shedding a block from the fullback en route to drilling Texans QB David Carr, whose pass fell short of its intended receiver and into Bucs CB Mario Edwards’ hands for an interception. Gold led all linebackers with three tackles.

Rookie LB Marquis Cooper notched two tackles, including one where he completely stood up the Texans’ tailback for the stop. It was an impressive play.

With Shelton Quarles out again due to a wrist injury, Jeff Gooch and Keith Burns saw significant playing time at middle linebacker. Both players combined for one tackle.

Backup LB Ryan Nece fared well again on Thursday night and notched three tackles.

*The Bucs only allowed the Texans to convert 3 of 11 (27 percent) third down attempts.

GRADE: B


SECONDARY:
Bucs cornerback Mario Edwards got to start in place of Brian Kelly, who was held out for precautionary reasons. Edwards shined against the Texans, notching the interception in the first quarter and making a couple of impressive tackles throughout the game and a great pass breakup on a third-and-2 play in the first quarter. He finished the game with two tackles.

Backup CB Corey Ivy saw plenty of action and made the most of it, notching six tackles, including one that came on Houston’s attempted end around. Ivy was coming in on a blitz on that play and stopped the tailback for a 9-yard loss. He also made several other impressive tackles, including a few more against the run.

Backup CB Ronyell Whitaker missed a tackle during the second quarter, but he made up for it by picking off a pass, a play that halted a Houston drive in Tampa Bay territory. Whitaker, who bobbled the ball on the play, did a nice job of concentrating in an effort to intercept the pass. He finished the game with one tackle and one interception.

Bucs CB Torrie Cox recorded two tackles on Thursday night.

*Houston’s quarterbacks completed 17 of 27 (62.9 percent) passes for 189 yards against Tampa Bay’s defense. The Texans produced just 223 yards of total offense.

GRADE: A-


SPECIAL TEAMS:
Kicker Martin Gramatica continued to struggle on Thursday night. He missed a 47-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. He did, however, drill a 20-yard attempt in the second quarter and made two extra points. He finishes the preseason 6-of-10 (60 percent) on field goal attempts. But his kickoff in the third quarter only reached Houston’s 13-yard line and allowed the Texans’ return man to return the ball to the Bucs’ 40-yard line.

Speaking of kickoff returns, Bucs wide receiver Frank Murphy had two nice ones on Thursday night. He returned Houston’s first kickoff 38 yards to Tampa Bay’s 42-yard line. He returned the next kickoff to the 30-yard line and finished the game with an impressive 29.5 yard average.

Mark Jones returned one kickoff 16 yards. He also fielded two punts, but he didn’t really have any room to return them.

Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 34.5 yards per punt on two attempts. His longest was a 38-yarder. One of those punts went inside Houston’s 20-yard line.

Backup RB Brandon Bennett made a nice block on Murphy’s first return and a nice tackle on a kickoff return in the second quarter.

The Bucs fell asleep in the fourth quarter when the Texans successfully pulled off an onside kick. However, Tampa Bay’s defense forced Houston to punt on that drive, so the mistake didn’t result in points.

GRADE: C


COACHING:
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden seems to thrive again 3-4 defenses. He took advantage of Houston’s aggressive linebackers by having his quarterbacks play-action pass the Texans to death. A productive ground attack and great pass protection from the offensive line made the Bucs successful in this area. For the most part, Gruden’s play selection on third down was excellent.

The defense is really buying what defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has been preaching this offseason — create more turnovers. The Bucs defense created three turnovers and held Houston to three field goals on Thursday night.

Tampa Bay’s special teams unit had an average outing on Thursday night, but it’s still noticeably improved from last season. The Bucs have two capable return and cover men in Frank Murphy and Mark Jones.

GRADE: B+
This story is intended to be read only 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 PewterReport.com. Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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