SEVERAL PLAYERS CHANGE JERSEY NUMBERS:
Several Tampa Bay Buccaneers players recently changed jersey numbers.

Wide receiver/kicker returner Frank Murphy switched from jersey number 5 to No. 15.

Bucs WR Bill Schroeder, who previously sported No. 4, is now sporting jersey No. 11.

Rookie guard Jeb Terry has switched from No. 68 to No. 77.

Rookie defensive end Josh Savage, who previously sported jersey No. 54, is now wearing No. 93.

BUCS RELEASE OFFICIAL 53-MAN DEPTH CHART:
With Tampa Bay’s roster trimmed down to 53 players, the Buccaneers have released their depth chart. Here are some interesting notes from the depth chart:

*Despite a local newspaper’s report that suggested Brian Griese had won the backup quarterback job behind starter Brad Johnson, the Bucs have both Griese and Chris Simms listed as the No. 2 signal caller on the depth chart.

*Second-year guard/center Sean Mahan is listed as starting C John Wade’s backup.

*Despite hauling in a team-high 12 receptions for 99 yards and one touchdown during preseason, second-year tight end Will Heller is listed as Tampa Bay’s fourth tight end behind Ken Dilger, Rickey Dudley and Dave Moore.

*Wide receiver Tim Brown is listed as Tampa Bay’s starting flanker (Z) in front of rookie WR Michael Clayton.

*Greg Comella is listed as Tampa Bay’s backup fullback behind Mike Alstott. Jameel Cook is listed as the team’s third fullback.

*Linebacker Ryan Nece, who started at strongside linebacker for Tampa Bay last season, is now listed as the team’s third-team SLB behind Ian Gold and Jeff Gooch.

*Gooch served as middle linebacker Shelton Quarles’ backup during training camp and preseason, but Keith Burns is listed as his backup. Gooch isn’t even listed as a middle linebacker on the depth chart.

*Cornerbacks Corey Ivy and Mario Edwards are listed as Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber’s backups, respectively. Torrie Cox is listed as the team’s third-team cornerback.

*At the beginning of the 2003 season, PewterReport.com was first, and perhaps the only media outlet, to report that the Bucs actually had Dwight Smith, who was listed as a free safety, playing strong safety, and John Lynch, who was listed as the team’s starting strong safety, playing free safety, in 4-3 packages last season. Well, after a full year of trying to keep that secret under wraps, the Bucs have finally decided to let the cat out of the bag. Smith is listed as the team’s strong safety and Jermaine Phillips is listed as the starting free safety on Tampa Bay’s depth chart.

*Rookie S Will Allen is listed as Smith’s backup and John Howell is listed as Phillips’ backup at free safety.

*Wide receivers Frank Murphy and Bill Schroeder are listed as Tampa Bay’s primary kickoff returners. Wide receiver Joey Galloway is listed as the team’s primary punt returner, and Schroeder is listed as his backup.

BUCS READY TO PLAY REDSKINS:
It’s been about eight months since Tampa Bay played a regular season football game. Needless to say, the Bucs, who finished the 2003 regular season with a two-game losing streak and 7-9 record, are anxious to take the field for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Washington Redskins.

“Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this for some time,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “We need to play. It’s time to go. We’ve had training camp long enough, we’ve had plenty of OTAs, now it’s time to go play. I’m certainly looking forward to competing with the Redskins in their stadium. It’s a great atmosphere to start the season in.”

Some believe the element of surprise will play a factor in Sunday’s game since it marks Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs’ return to the Redskins’ sideline. But Gruden suggested Gibbs and the Redskins could be surprised by the Bucs, who apparently didn’t put a lot on film for their opponents during preseason.

“It’s common practice for coaches not to show their hand too much in the preseason,” said Gruden. “Obviously, with Joe Gibbs, a Hall of Fame coach, you have to respect the creativity that he possesses. He’s got a veteran staff that’s been with him for years, and with that comes the unknown. But we have some of that element, also. We haven’t showed our entire package on defense. It will be an interesting matchup between their offense and our defense, and vice versa.”

With Sunday being Washington’s season opener and Gibbs’ first game back, Tampa Bay is expecting a raucous atmosphere at FedEx Field, but the Bucs’ main focus isn’t what will be happening on the sideline or in the stands.

“We can’t let it be a distraction,” Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said of Gibbs’ homecoming. “We know it’s his first game back at home, so there will be a lot of things going on out there. We have already discussed it behind closed doors and we can’t let all of their excitement become a distraction. We have to keep our minds focused on the game. When all of the fireworks have settled, it’s time to play football. Period. He deserves it. He is one of the best in the business.”

PREPARING FOR PORTIS:
Washington has some legitimate offensive weapons, including quarterback Mark Brunell and wide receiver Laveranues Coles, but Tampa Bay’s defense is determined to halt the Redskins’ ground game, which is led by tailback Clinton Portis.

“He’s so many dimensions,” Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice said of Portis. “Fast, quick, great ability, great awareness. I think the most tangible thing is the physical aspect when you prepare for him. Running, chasing him down.”

In just two seasons in the NFL, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Portis has rushed for over 3,000 yards. Last season, which was his last as a Denver Bronco, Portis rushed for 1,591 yards (5.5 avg.) and 14 touchdowns.

Needless to say, the Bucs know they will face one of the league’s most dangerous backs on Sunday, but they’re confident they can contain him if they execute their game plan and remain disciplined in their one-gap scheme.

“It’s well noted we face a lot of top rushers from last year, but we feel we face a great back every week,” said Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks. “We are not going to put added pressure on ourselves. We still feel it’s about us. If we go up there and execute our game plan and do what we have to do, we will come away with a win. We can’t get too focused on their weapons. We have to worry about the weapons we bring to the game.”

CLAYTON AIMING FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR HONORS?:
With wide receiver Keenan McCardell a holdout, some pundits believe Tampa Bay first-round pick Michael Clayton could be poised to make a serious push for NFC Rookie of the Year honors.

While it’s still very early, Clayton certainly impressed during preseason, leading all Bucs wide receivers with 11 receptions for 154 yards in four exhibition games.

Despite having some success and feeling comfortable in Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s offense, Clayton, who will likely serve as the team’s No. 3 receiver, didn’t want to make any guarantees. He did, however, suggest that only good things would come out of him receiving Rookie of the Year honors.

“You do what you have to do,” said Clayton. “If it’s my award to win, I’m going to win it, doing what I am supposed to do on the field, but it’s not about the individual accomplishments because right now the main goal is to win the championship. Whatever comes along with that will come.”

Having a veteran like WR Tim Brown serve as his mentor has made Clayton’s transition from college to the pros much smoother.

“Tim has taught me how to relax,” said Clayton. “When I came in, anxiety was flaring up. I was winded after two plays. Sometimes I would be down on myself because I was making mistakes. He said that no one plays this game perfect. I have been able to go out there and perform and catch the ball like my normal self.”

OFFENSIVE LINE SET:
Left tackle Derrick Deese, left guard Matt Stinchcomb, center John Wade, right guard Cosey Coleman and right tackle Todd Steussie will serve as Tampa Bay’s starting offensive linemen against Washington.

Although injuries caused Tampa Bay to move players around, members of the offensive line think they, as a group, have an identity, but this unit wants the rest of the league to know what that identity is.

“We are a rugged group, a veteran group, to say the least,” said Coleman. “Everybody has experience and a bunch of games under their belt, so from that standpoint there is a lot of experience in the room. We still have a point to prove around here since the defense has carried this team for so long. From an offensive standpoint, especially the linemen, I think we are still in the process of trying to create an identity, a name for ourselves around this league.”

Although he feels comfortable with the five guys blocking for him in the trenches, Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson said people should expect the offense to improve as the season goes on.

“We’ll be better week five than week one, and we’ll be better at the end of the season than now,” said Johnson. “But with the players we have, the progression we’ve made at training camp, I feel comfortable going into the first game. You never know what teams have shown, what they will bring at you during the first game. A lot can happen during the first game, especially at Washington, with their blitz packages.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Tampa Bay defensive end Greg Spires on the atmosphere surrounding Sunday’s Bucs-Redskins game:

“It feels like it’s a playoff game. We want to start the first game of the season on a good note, so this game is important.”

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