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Based on Pewter Report’s own evaluations from Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp and from discussions from our Bucs insiders, here are the five top strongest positions on the team heading into the 2006 season ranked in order.

No. 1 RUNNING BACKS
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ best player may be starting halfback Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who is a bona fide 1,000-yard running back and should become a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come. Williams is on the verge of becoming an NFL superstar, and will be in that class with the likes of Tiki Barber and Edgerrin James when his skills as a receiver and a pass protector match his running ability. But the most impressive aspect of Tampa Bay’s running back class is the depth and talent behind Williams. Two of the most impressive players in training camp thus far are Michael Pittman and Derek Watson. Pittman is versatile and talented enough to be a starter on some NFL teams and his team-first attitude has made him one of the most popular players on the team. Watson is a young talent who has tremendous natural running ability and instincts. If something were to happen to Williams this year, Pittman and Watson would be able to fill most of the void between the two of them. Throw in goal-line carries and short-yardage runs from Mike Alstott and the Bucs have a four-headed monster at running back. An interesting race is heating up for the reserve fullback spot between Jerald Sowell, Rick Razzano and Carey Davis.
CAMP STARS: Pittman and Watson

No. 2 WIDE RECEIVERS
Jon Gruden likes to do things on offense – run the ball a lot and throw the ball a lot. Okay, what playcaller doesn’t? But there will be games, such as Green Bay and Buffalo last year, where he will want to establish the ground game and pound away with Williams. Then there will be other games, such as Washington and Detroit last year, where he will want to air it out. With the wide receiver arsenal he’s assembling in Tampa Bay this year, Gruden will have the luxury of attacking opponents from the land and air at a moment’s notice. The wide receiver position, what has been a perennial weakness in Tampa Bay, has been turned into a strength this offseason with the re-signing of Ike Hilliard, the signing of David Boston and the drafing of Maurice Stovall. The ageless Joey Galloway is clearly the Bucs’ best receiver and capable of producing Pro Bowl numbers this year and beyond. Michael Clayton is healthy and focused like he was in 2004 when he was a 1,000-yard receiver. Galloway, Clayton, Hilliard, Boston and Stovall are a stud quintet with a great mix of size, speed, playmaking ability and physical presence. The sixth receiver will likely come down to Edell Shepherd, Chas Gessner, J.R. Russell, Paris Warren or Mark Jones. When talented players like these, who could probably make it as a fourth receiver elsewhere, vie for the number six wide receiver spot, that’s the sign of a deep and talented wide receiver position.
CAMP STARS: Galloway, Boston, Stovall, Clayton and Gessner

No. 3 LINEBACKERS
Will (weakside) linebacker Derrick Brooks is a future Hall of Famer and still on top of his game because of his work ethic, instincts and intelligence. But Tampa Bay’s linebacking corps is not a one-man-gang. Mike (middle) linebacker Shelton Quarles had his best season as a pro in 2005 – even at age 33 – and led the Bucs in tackles with 196. Any time there is a tackle leader not named Derrick Brooks, it’s big news in Tampa Bay. As long as he stays healthy, Quarles seems poised to have another big year, especially with Chris Hovan playing so well in front of him. Sam (strongside) linebacker Ryan Nece has really been flashing at training camp. He appears to be holding off Marquis Cooper at this point, but Cooper is developing into a solid player behind the scenes. The real splash player in camp at the linebacker spot has been Jamie Winborn, who is backing up Brooks. Winborn is a fast, athletic playmaker with experience that could be the heir apparent at Will one day. When you factor in Winborn, Cooper and Barrett Ruud, who is Quarles’ understudy, along with the starters, that’s a very talented group with a great blend of experience, speed and youthful ability. Antoine Cash is a long shot to make the Bucs roster, but he has the skills to be on an NFL team and is having a good camp. He can make the roster if the Bucs keep seven linebackers.
CAMP STARS: Winborn, Nece and Cooper

No. 4 CORNERBACKS
The Bucs have a pair of experienced playmaking corners in Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly. The versatile Barber is one of the best all-around football players in the NFL. Kelly has shutdown ability on the left side of the field and is one of the more physical defensive backs in the NFL. Throw in veteran nickel back Juran Bolden and the Bucs have a solid cornerback situation in nickel defense. Bolden seems to have gotten faster in Mike Morris’ offseason program and has been much, much better in pass coverage downfield this training camp. He’s been using his long arms and 6-foot-3 frame to break up deep balls to Joey Galloway, which has been impressive. It also appears that having a year’s worth of the Tampa 2 under his belt has helped Bolden a great deal, too. Tampa Bay’s cornerback situation has been bolstered by the addition of fourth-round draft pick Alan Zemaitis, who has nice size and toughness. His impact may not be felt this year on defense, but he’s probably a future starter if he develops properly. After a slow start, he’s come up with two picks in recent practices and is making his presence felt. The fifth cornerback spot will likely fall to James Patrick, Justin Phinisee or Torrie Cox. In Pewter Report’s estimation, Patrick may have the early lead for the final corner spot. The Bucs have assembled a deep group of cornerbacks.
CAMP STARS: Bolden and Zemaitis

No. 5 DEFENSIVE END
The presence of sackmaster Simeon Rice alone puts this group in the top 5. Rice is on the verge of becoming the Buccaneers’ all-time leading sacker and is still one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the NFL. Greg Spires is a good player, but there is a chance he could get unseated by hard-charging Dewayne White, who has already forced two fumbles in camp. White has some momentum on his side from the end of last year, and is becoming a more consistent player this year. Spires will have to produce more splash plays to keep his job, but there is something comforting about his steady presence. The Bucs’ top three defensive ends are dynamite and perfect for Monte Kiffin’s one-gap scheme. There is also a very good defensive end in the developmental stage right now – Andrew Williams. Williams brings more strength and power to the defensive end position than Rice, White and perhaps Spires does. He seems to be a lock to make the roster based on the rave reviews he received behind the scenes last year and his work thus far this year. All he has to do is produce in preseason. Promising rookie Charles Bennett just suffered a hamstring strain on Sunday, but he was likely destined for the practice squad this year, anyway. Fellow rookie Julian Jenkins, like Ellis Wyms, can play defensive end as well as defensive tackle, which only bolsters the position. Defensive tackles Keith Wright and Jon Bradley have also been taking snaps at defensive end, which only gives this unit more strength in numbers.
CAMP STARS: White and Williams

NEXT UP:Pewter Report will rank the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ positions in descending order, finishing up with the weakest unit on the team.


This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider 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.


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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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