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QUARTERBACKS:
Brad Johnson started the game vs. the Dolphins and played until the last offensive series of the second quarter. He made a clutch throw on third-and-7 on the first offensive series when he hit wide receiver Tim Brown for a 7-yard gain, which was just enough to keep the drive alive. However, Johnson had a chance to throw his first touchdown pass of the preseason on the second offensive series when tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley got open in the end zone, but the starting quarterback’s throw off a play-action play fell incomplete. Johnson completed 8 of his 12 (66 percent) pass attempts for 72 yards and led the Buccaneers offense into field goal range twice.

Backup QB Chris Simms entered the game with just under 2:00 remaining in the second quarter. Last week, Simms and Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks struggled to get into a rhythm, but that wasn’t the case Saturday. Simms completed his first three throws, but he was guilty of holding onto the ball too long in the pocket on one play, which caused the drive to stall. Simms started the second half by hitting running back Jamel White in stride on a simple underneath route that the speedy tailback turned into a 27-yard gain. And on Tampa Bay’s last offensive drive of the third quarter, Simms engineered a six-play, 76-yard touchdown drive by completing deep passes to White and rookie WR Michael Clayton, whose 26-yard sideline catch set up RB Earnest Graham’s 2-yard touchdown run. Simms was 4-of-4 on that drive. He completed 11-of-13 (84.6 percent) of his passes for 145 yards and was Tampa Bay’s most impressive signal caller on Saturday night.

Brian Griese took Simms’ place on Tampa Bay’s first offensive drive of the fourth quarter, and he started off hot, completing his first five passes, including two impressive throws to tight end Will Heller and one 20-yard pass to rookie WR Mark Jones. The offensive line didn’t do a great job of giving Griese a lot of time to throw, but he still completed 5-of-8 passes for 44 yards and led the offense into field goal range, but kicker Martin Gramatica missed the 44-yard attempt.

*Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks completed 24-of-33 (72.7 percent) passes for 261 yards against Miami.

GRADE: B+


RUNNING BACKS:
Tailback Charlie Garner finally made his debut as a Buccaneer Saturday night. While he only carried the ball four times, the speedy and elusive Garner produced 20 yards rushing and broke off an impressive 11-yarder.

Michael Pittman got a lot of work in against the Dolphins, carrying the ball three times for 15 yards, including a 12-yarder on Tampa Bay’s first offensive drive, and hauling in three passes for 12 yards. While he showed good moves and a more controlled running style on his 12-yard run, Pittman fumbled a shovel pass from QB Chris Simms during the last two minutes of the first half. Luckily for Pittman, tight end Rickey Dudley recovered the ball.

Fullback Mike Alstott got back on track after being ineffective in Tampa Bay’s first two preseason contests. The “A-Train” carried the ball four times for 25 yards (6.3 avg.) and he broke off runs of 6 and 11 yards while displaying a potent, downhill running style. Alstott’s 11-yard run put the Bucs on the Dolphins’ 20-yard line in the second quarter.

Backup RB Jamel White continued to impress in preseason. Although he didn’t carry the ball against the Dolphins, White hauled in two passes for 51 yards, including a 27-yarder he produced after catching a pass from QB Chris Simms on a simple underneath route. White used his jets to sprint upfield and turn a short pass into a big gain. He later hauled in a 24-yarder on a nicely placed pass from Simms during the later part of the third quarter. That grab, which put the Bucs on the Dolphins’ 28-yard line, eventually helped the team score their first touchdown of the game.

Earnest Graham saw action in the second half and made the most of his opportunities. Graham, who has scored Tampa Bay’s only two touchdowns of the preseason heading into Saturday night’s game vs. Miami, added a third to his resume in the third quarter by working his way into the end zone for a 2-yard score. But Graham proved he could be more than just a short-yardage and goal line runner by breaking off a 36-yard run in the fourth quarter. He could have, however, done a little better in pass protection. Graham finished the game with 11 carries for 52 yards (4.7 avg.) and one touchdown.

Fullback Greg Comella had some nice blocks, including a key one on Alstott’s 8-yard run on the second offensive series of the game. He also caught one pass for a 7-yard gain.

*Tampa Bay’s backs carried the ball 28 times for 108 yards (3.9 avg.) while hauling in eight passes for 75 yards against Miami.

GRADE: B+


WIDE RECEIVERS:
Tim Brown started at the flanker (Z) position and hauled in three passes for 25 yards, including a clutch 7-yard catch he made on a third-and-7 play on Tampa Bay’s first offensive drive of the game. Not only did he do a nice job of catching the pass, but Brown’s ability to stretch the ball out past the first down marker was even more impressive. Brown’s catches appeared to come against zone coverage, where the veteran receiver did a nice job of finding soft spots in coverage.

Bill Schroeder started at the split-end (X) position in place of Joey Galloway, who was sidelined with a groin strain. He hauled in two passes for 25 yards. Schroeder’s most impressive catch came on Tampa Bay’s second offensive series of the game when he adjusted to a poorly thrown ball, caught it and gained 13 yards on the play.

After not having a single pass thrown his way last week against Jacksonville, Tampa Bay rookie WR Michael Clayton turned in a big performance against Miami, hauling in four passes for 57 yards (14.3 avg.). Clayton made several big catches, but his most significant grab came in the third quarter when he adjusted to a ball that was underthrown a bit by QB Chris Simms and hauled the pass in for a 26-yard gain, which put the Bucs on the Dolphins’ 2-yard line. Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham scored on the next play.

Like Brown, Clayton did a nice job of settling into soft spots in zone coverage. While his production in the passing game was great, Clayton’s downfield blocking skills were put to use as well when one of his blocks helped to open a nice hole for fullback Mike Alstott’s 8-yard run on Tampa Bay’s second offensive series of the game. Although he was flagged for pass interference on a middle-screen play in the third quarter, Clayton’s only problem on the play was that he started blocking before the ball was actually caught by the intended receiver. Despite the penalty, Clayton delivered a fantastic performance vs. the Dolphins.

Rookie WR Mark Jones hauled in a 20-yard pass from QB Brian Griese in the fourth quarter. Danny Farmer, who has had a quiet preseason, caught a pass for a 14-yard gain against the Dolphins.

Marcus Knight didn’t catch any passes, but was seen running open several times on Saturday night. He was also called for holding in the fourth quarter.

*Tampa Bay converted 4 of 13 (30.7 percent) third down attempts vs. Miami.

GRADE: B


TIGHT ENDS:
Tampa Bay’s tight ends had a quiet preseason until the game vs. Miami.

Second-year TE Will Heller had a strong showing. He hauled in four passes for 38 yards, including a 13-yarder from QB Brian Griese in the fourth quarter. Like receivers Tim Brown and Michael Clayton, Heller did a nice job of getting open in zone coverage, and he made some nice blocks as well. Some people within the organization believe Heller is Tampa Bay’s most athletic tight end, and that notion was supported by his route-running and play-making ability on Saturday night.

Rickey Dudley caught a 7-yard pass on a play-action fake from QB Brad Johnson in the first quarter. That catch put the Bucs on the Dolphins’ 46-yard line. Dudley came up big again late in the second quarter when he recovered RB Michael Pittman’s fumble.

While in the red zone, tight end Ken Dilger and Dudley got themselves wide open in the end zone in the second quarter, but Johnson’s pass went right in-between both players and fell incomplete.

GRADE: B


OFFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line featured left tackle Anthony Davis, left guard Matt Stinchcomb, center John Wade, right guard Cosey Coleman and right tackle Todd Steussie on Saturday night.

Davis had what was perhaps the most difficult matchup of any player — holding off Dolphins All-Pro defensive end Jason Taylor’s pass rush. Davis struggled at times, evidenced by Taylor’s sack of QB Brad Johnson on Tampa Bay’s first offensive series of the game. But Davis, who was starting in place of Derrick Deese (foot), didn’t do too badly, showing good effort and solid technique against a crafty speed rusher like Taylor. Davis was, however, called for a false start in the third quarter. Facing Taylor was a good test for Davis, and overall all, he passed it.

Coleman and Stinchcomb were two big reasons why Tampa Bay’s ground attack took off against Miami. Both players, particularly Stinchcomb, were called on often to pull from their respective guard positions. They did so effectively, thus opening up some nice running lanes for the backs. Coleman, however, was flagged for a false start in the first quarter.

Steussie didn’t see a lot of action against the Dolphins. He was pulled out of the game with 1:40 remaining in the second quarter. Kenyatta Walker replaced him and held his own.

Backup G Kerry Jenkins, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Stinchcomb, was called for holding on fullback Greg Comella’s third quarter catch.

*Although it allowed two sacks, the offensive line played an integral role in helping the Bucs produce 360 yards of total offense, including 108 yards rushing.

GRADE: B-


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Although Tampa Bay’s defensive line had some trouble stuffing Miami’s ground game right away, it settled down fairly quickly and ended up holding the Dolphins to 39 yards rushing on 21 carries (1.9 avg.).

One of the reasons why the Dolphins saw some early success was because they were double-teaming under tackle Anthony McFarland, who still managed to record two tackles, including one in the backfield on Dolphins RB Travis Minor, who didn’t go anywhere on the attempted screen-play.

Starting nose tackle Chartric Darby also made a nice backfield tackle on Minor to force a third-and-10 situation in the first quarter. Backup DT/DE Ellis Wyms saw some action at nose tackle and replaced Darby on a few different plays. Darby and Wyms each recorded one tackle.

Although he started at right end, Simeon Rice saw a significant amount of action at left end during the first quarter of Saturday night’s game. When Rice moved over to the left side of the defensive line, Greg Spires, who started at left end, moved over to the right side. This strategy seemed to work, evidenced by Miami’s overall rushing production, or lack thereof. Rice and Spires each notched one tackle, and while they defended the run well, both players, especially Rice, could have done a better job of sustaining a more potent pass rush.

Dewayne White replaced Spires at left end with 8:00 remaining in the second quarter. He did not record a tackle.

Reinard Wilson, who replaced Rice in the third quarter, made a great tackle on Dolphins RB Sammy Morris in the backfield for a loss in the third quarter. However, Wilson was called for roughing the passer in the third quarter as well, which put the Dolphins’ offense on the Bucs’ 8-yard line and eventually led to a score.

DeVone Claybrooks nearly intercepted Dolphins QB A.J. Feeley in the third quarter after he dropped off the line of scrimmage and back into coverage. Neither Wilson nor Claybrooks recorded a tackle on the night.

Cleveland Pinkney, who saw time at under tackle, put a tremendous amount of pressure on Feeley. He almost sacked Feeley in the third quarter and his pressure forced an incompletion. Pinkney and linebacker Ryan Nece combined for tackle on Minor in a third-and-1 goal line situation in the third quarter.

Defensive end Corey Smith came up huge in the fourth quarter when he sacked Dolphins QB Sage Rosenfels and forced him to fumble, allowing Bucs DT Damian Gregory to fall on the loose ball with :15 remaining in the game. Smith’s only tackle of the game was that sack, which just happened to be Tampa Bay’s only quarterback takedown of the contest.

Defensive end Josh Savage, who notched two sacks in the preseason opener vs. Cincinnati, was called for being offsides in the fourth quarter. He didn’t notch a tackle. <

GRADE: B-


LINEBACKERS:
Backup strongside linebacker Ryan Nece arguably had the best game of any Bucs player on the field Saturday night. Nece made a nice tackle on RB Travis Minor on a third-and-1 goal line play in the third quarter, and he appeared to make another stop on fourth-and-1 from the goal line, but the play, a quarterback sneak by QB A.J. Feeley, was ruled a touchdown and a challenge didn’t overturn the call. Nece, who notched a team-leading seven tackles vs. the Dolphins, came up huge in the fourth quarter when he picked off Dolphins QB Sage Rosefels’ pass and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown, which put the Bucs up 17-10. Nece was all over the field in this game, which was reminiscent of how he played last year en route to beating Dwayne Rudd out for the starting “Sam” spot.

The player who will likely beat Nece out for the starting strongside linebacker spot this season — Ian Gold — was pretty solid on Saturday night. He was excellent in pass coverage and even made a great tackle on Dolphins RB Sammy Morris for a 1-yard loss in the third quarter. Gold recorded three tackles.

Starting weakside LB Derrick Brooks saw his first action of the preseason on Saturday night, but it was extremely limited. Backup Michael Brown replaced Brooks on Miami’s second offensive series of the game, and he made an impressive tackle on that drive. He finished the game with one tackle and one pass defensed. Brooks finished the game with one tackle.

Jeff Gooch started in place of Shelton Quarles (wrist) at the middle LB position. Although he recorded five tackles, Gooch has seen better games. He was overpowered on a running play and missed Dolphins RB Sammy Morris, who made a spin move that caused Gooch to miss him during the first half of Saturday night’s game. Gooch was also involved in coverage on a passing play that went for a touchdown, but the Bucs caught a break when a holding penalty negated the score. Still, Gooch made some impressive tackles vs. the Dolphins.

Rookie LB Marquis Cooper got on the field in the second quarter and notched four tackles, adding to his already impressive tackle total of six before Saturday night’s game.

Backup MLB Keith Burns recorded four tackles.

GRADE: B


SECONDARY:
Tampa Bay held Miami to 209 yards of total offense and only allowed the Dolphins quarterbacks to complete 19 of 38 (50 percent) attempts for 178 yards.

Miami wide receiver Chris Chambers gave Tampa Bay’s defense some problems. He caught four passes for 56 yards, including a 21-yarder. The damage could have, however, been worse. Chambers appeared to make a great catch across the deep middle of the field, but a crushing hit by Bucs safety Dwight Smith, who notched four tackles vs. the Dolphins, prevented the completion. It’s not that the Bucs didn’t account for Chambers. Cornerback Brian Kelly had good coverage on him, but he managed to get open for some big plays in the secondary. Speaking of Kelly, he made a nice tackle on Chambers in the flat and defended what could have been a touchdown pass to Chambers in the corner of the end zone. Kelly notched three tackles vs. the Dolphins.

Cornerback Ronde Barber recorded three tackles, including one he made in the second quarter when he took down Dolphins RB Sammy Morris in the backfield for a 2-yard loss.

Starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips recorded three tackles.

Nickel corner Mario Edwards was pretty impressive against the Dolphins. He jumped QB A.J. Feeley’s pass and almost picked it off midway trough the second quarter. It was a good play, but it would have been great one if Edwards could have come up with the pick. He also made a nice hit on Morris in the backfield to break up a pass in the third quarter. Edwards finished the game with two passes defensed.

Backup CB Corey Ivy had an active game and recorded four tackles vs. the Dolphins. He also put a nice block on QB Sage Rosenfels, which allowed LB Ryan Nece to run free to the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

*Miami converted 7 of 16 (44 percent) third down attempts vs. Tampa Bay.

GRADE: B-


SPECIAL TEAMS:
Nicholas Setta handled kickoffs for Martin Gramatica, who only made one of three field goal attempts against Miami. Gramatica made his first attempt, a 30-yarder, but went on to miss a 42-yard attempt and a 44-yard try. To make Tampa Bay’s kicking matters worse, one of Setta’s kickoffs went out of bounds, which gave Miami the ball at its own 40-yard line.

Mark Jones and Frank Murphy handled all of the kickoffs. Both players did a good job. Murphy returned two kickoffs for 53 yards and averaged 26.5 yards per return. Jones returned five punts for 36 yards (7.2 avg.) and his longest return was a 10-yarder, but it was what he did when he didn’t field punts that was the most impressive. Two of Miami’s punts fell inside Tampa Bay’s 20-yard line and near the goal line, but instead of letting the ball just drop, Jones did a great job of selling the Dolphins on the idea that he was going to field the punts, which didn’t allow the Dolphins cover men to down the punts before they rolled into the end zone for touchbacks.

Fullback Greg Comella, who serves as the team’s personal protector on punts, had a great takedown during a punt by Josh Bidwell. That great play avoided a possible block.

The Bucs faked a punt in the third quarter by having the ball directly snapped to Comella, who couldn’t quite get enough yardage for the first down.

Bidwell punted five times for 201 yards (40.2 avg.) and pinned two of his attempts inside Miami’s 20-yard line.

GRADE: C-


COACHING:
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden came out determined to have his offense establish some sort of ground attack, and it worked, evidenced by the Bucs’ 108 yards rushing. The ground game also helped the Bucs control the time of possession, 33:13 to Miami’s 26:47.

The Bucs were only penalized five times for 33 yards on Saturday night.

Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin did a nice job of calling defenses that were able to defend a plethora of screen plays called by Miami’s offense.

He might have lost a challenge, but Gruden was right to challenge the call on the field that said Miami QB A.J. Feeley got into the end zone on a 1-yard sneak. Replays showed that the ball never crossed the goal line, but the officials, for some reason, decided not to overturn the call. That wasn’t fair to the defense, which had put together one heckuva goal line stand before that suspect call.

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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