The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running game, that ranked 29th in the NFL last year, has been one of the main focal points in the offseason and in training camp. All of that hard work paid off in the Bucs’ preseason opener against Tennessee as Tampa Bay rushed for 169 yards on 37 carries (4.6 avg.) behind a make-shift offensive line that has been ravaged by injuries.

Derek Watson, who has been a training camp star, led the way for the Bucs with 63 rushing yards on 14 carries (4.5 avg.), including a 24-yard jaunt off left tackle on his first carry in the second quarter. Earnest Graham, who started at halfback for the Bucs tonight, had 62 yards rushing on 10 carries. Graham scored a touchdown on a 10-yard run off left tackle, and added a 24-yard scamper in overtime to set up Matt Bryant’s 33-yard game-winning field goal.

Ian Smart added 35 yards rushing on 10 carries (3.5 avg.)

Tampa Bay quarterbacks Brian Griese (1-of-2 for 6 yards), Chris Simms (8-of-11 for 54 yards, one interception) and Josh McCown (9-of-11 for 48 yards) combined to throw for just 108 yards against Tennessee.

Both of Tampa Bay kickers – Todd France and Matt Bryant – had a great showing in the preseason opener against Tennessee. France connected on a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to give the Bucs a 17-14 lead, and also had a nice kickoff down to the 1-yard line. Matt Bryant drilled a kickoff deep into the end zone for a touchback before blasting a 33-yard field goal in overtime to beat Tennessee 20-17.

After making 31 field goals in a row at one point in practice last week, France got the start at field goal kicker tonight against the Titans. He and Bryant alternated on the Bucs’ two extra point opportunities – both of which were successful.

Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, did not start for the Buccaneers and only saw action on one play in which he was used as a decoy on a play-action pass. Instead of Williams and Michael Pittman, who did not play in the preseason opener, Earnest Graham got the start at halfback.

Rookie Alex Smith got the start along with veteran Anthony Becht as the Bucs opened the game with a two-tight end set.

The Bucs’ starting offensive line was shuffled due to injuries to left tackle Derrick Deese (foot) and left guard Matt Stinchcomb (back strain). Anthony Davis started at left tackle, Sean Mahan started at left guard, John Wade started at center, Jeb Terry started at right guard and Kenyatta Walker started at right tackle.

On defense, Torrie Cox started at left cornerback in place of Brian Kelly, and Ryan Nece started in place of Jeff Gooch and ahead of Marquis Cooper at strongside linebacker. Neither Kelly nor Gooch played against the Titans.

Receivers Larry Brackins and Terrence Metcalf and linebacker Josh Buhl suited up but did not play. Fullbacks Mike Alstott (neck) and Rick Razzano (hamstring), guard Dan Buenning (calf), tackle Jeff Hatch (back), running back Charlie Garner (knee) and long snapper Dave Moore (finger) did not suit up due to injury.

During training camp, Tampa Bay has been working hard on creating turnovers on defense and not turning the ball over on offense. The Bucs showed that they could use some more work in those areas tonight against Tennessee.

On defense, the Bucs’ starters forced two turnovers with cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Torrie Cox stripping Titans receiver Drew Bennett of the ball and free safety Dexter Jackson recovering it. Strong safety Jermaine Phillips created the other one by picking off a Steve McNair pass in the end zone.

However, rookie free safety Hamza Abdullah dropped an easy interception in the fourth quarter that could have sealed the game for Tampa Bay, and cornerback Blue Adams dropped an interception and couldn’t recover a fumble he forced in overtime.

On offense, Earnest Graham had a costly fumble at the Titans’ 27-yard line and then missed a key block in pass protection that caused Chris Simms to get pressured into throwing an interception to Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck, who returned it for a touchdown.

On special teams, Torrie Cox muffed a punt return, but eventually recovered his fumble.

With two starters and two reserves missing the preseason opener at Tennessee, the injuries continue to pile up along the offensive line for Tampa Bay. Starting right guard Jeb Terry suffered an MCL sprain on his left knee against Tennessee and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks.

Sean Mahan, who started at left guard in place of Matt Stinchcomb, left the game with an elbow strain and was x-rayed. The Bucs will further evaluate his condition tomorrow.

Running back Derek Watson left the game with a neck injury and was also x-rayed.

The Bucs defense had three sacks against Tennessee with rookie nose tackle Anthony Bryant and defensive ends Josh Savage and Bryant McNeal each recording one apiece. … Shaky camera work and an irrelevant, unnecessary, rambling interview with Tennessee Titans fan and NASCAR driver Darryl Waltrip marred the television coverage of the Buccaneers’ preseason opener. … The Bucs misspelled Jonathan Clinkscale’s name on the back of his jersey. The name “Clinkscales” was on the back of the rookie offensive lineman’s jersey.

If you liked this story, be sure to get the inside scoop and more detailed information on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offseason plans regarding roster changes, free agency and the NFL Draft with a Pewter Insider premium subscription.

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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 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: sr@pewterreport.com
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