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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 remaining six positions on the team ranked from strongest to weakest heading into the 2006 season. This is a continuation of the Buccaneers’ position rankings from a previous Pewter Insider story that ranked the Bucs’ top five positions.

No. 6 INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have stockpiled some talent at the guard position this offseason with the addition of veteran Toniu Fonoti and rookie Davin Joseph, who was the team’s first-round draft pick. With returning starter Dan Buenning looking solid at left guard and third-year player Jeb Terry making a hard run at the starting right guard position, Tampa Bay’s guard play should be better than it was a year ago. However, there is still a chance that either Fonoti or Joseph could steal a starting assignment with a strong preseason. The 370-pound Fonoti has held up better than expected in the Florida heat and his power in the running game has raised the eyebrows of the coaching staff. Joseph has a ways to go, but shows the foundation for being a solid NFL player already. Sean Mahan, who started all 17 games at right guard last year, could hang on to his job, but the coaches really want to pit him against John Wade at center to elevate the play in the middle of the offensive line. Wade is responding to the challenge and currently fending off Mahan, but the fact that the Bucs have two very capable players who can anchor the offensive line, as well as some new talent competing at guard this year has really strengthened the interior of Tampa Bay’s offensive line.
CAMP STARS: Wade, Buenning and Fonoti

No. 7 DEFENSIVE TACKLES
There is good news and bad news with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ current stable of defensive tackles. The good news is that this group did a great job against the run last year, improving from 19th to sixth, which was key in helping Tampa Bay’s defense rank number one overall. Nose tackle Chris Hovan, who parlayed a great 2005 season on a one-year deal to a multi-year extension this offseason, was stout against the run, but did not record any sacks. Under tackle Booger McFarland does an incredible job of playing the run and moving laterally down the line of scrimmage. McFarland has the physical tools to get upfield and be a disruptive force, but simply hasn’t produced enough big plays. Last year he recorded just two sacks, and that number needs to triple to be respectable and match his level of pay, which is in the top 5 on the team. Versatile reserve Ellis Wyms is having a fine camp and was actually a more productive pass rusher than McFarland in 2005 with three sacks, including the Washington playoff contest. Because defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin relies so much on his front four generating a pass rush, the Bucs defensive tackles really need to respond and get after the quarterback. Because Simeon Rice was the only consistent pass rusher and the only defender to notch more than five sacks, Kiffin had to blitz his linebackers more than he wanted. We’ll see how the D-tackles respond to new position coach Jethro Franklin. Reserve nose tackle Jon Bradley is also capable of playing some defensive end, and is a player the organization thinks highly of. Rookie Julian Jenkins also has the versatility to play some defensive end and has flashed some ability in camp. Keith Wright and Kevin Lewis and fighting for practice squad spots.
CAMP STARS: Wyms, Hovan and Bradley

No. 8 TIGHT ENDS
The Buccaneers are expecting big things from second-year player Alex Smith in 2006. The team has been impressed with his serious demeanor and his workmanlike approach to the offseason. Head coach Jon Gruden has designed special plays and packages just for Smith, including “U Stanford,” which is a three-tight end set that has Smith lining up at wide receiver. The only concern here is that Smith is having a good, but not great training camp, and has dropped more passes than the coaches would like to see. Backup tight end Anthony Becht is in much better shape than he was a year ago. He has become more flexible and fluid and looks faster. He needs to work on his hands a bit more, but his run blocking is still his bread and butter trait. The Bucs will be using an awful lot of two tight end sets this year, and as long as Smith and Becht stay healthy, the Bucs will be set at tight end. But the reason why the tight end position is ranked this low is due to a lack of depth. The Bucs lost rookie tight end T.J. Williams for the year with a torn Achilles’ tendon at the mandatory mini-camp. Fellow rookie Tim Massaquoi has struggled catching the ball and is far from being a lock to make the team. Newcomers Mark Anelli and Matt Kranchick have also done little to excite the Bucs’ brass up to this point in camp, which is why Gruden is considering moving rookie wide receiver Maurice Stovall to tight end for some specific personnel packages and plays. If Smith goes down with an injury, suddenly the Bucs do not have a receiving threat at the position. If the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Stovall can make the transition to becoming a flex tight end, he would give the Bucs an option at the position.
CAMP STARS: Smith and Becht

No. 9 OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Left tackle Anthony Davis is a young player on the rise, but he must become a consistent player in pass protection. Davis is arguably the best run blocker on the team and was often at the point of attack in the Buccaneers’ left-handed running game. With 17 starts under his belt, he should be able to build on a solid 2005 campaign and raise his level of play and consistency. Kenyatta Walker was re-signed this offseason to play right tackle once again. Walker doesn’t generate much push in the running game and is an adequate pass protector, but the Bucs are hoping that second-round draft pick Jeremy Trueblood can eventually anchor the right side of the offensive line. The Bucs are hoping that Trueblood can start in 2006, but that will largely depend on how well he plays in the preseason and how well Walker, who is coming off his best season as a pro, fares this year. Scott Jackson may be the most versatile player on the team as he is capable of playing both tackle and guard positions, as well as center. Jackson has intelligence and toughness and is taking away some reps from Torrin Tucker, who hasn’t done much to impress during the first week of camp, at left tackle. Sam Lightbody is basically a camp body, but is playing well and has good size. The success of the offensive tackles this year relies on the development of Davis, Walker and Trueblood, and because two out of the three are works in progress, there is some real uncertainty regarding this position.
CAMP STARS: Davis and Jackson

No. 10 SAFETIES
The Buccaneers are encouraged by their two young safeties, Jeramine Phillips and Will Allen and like their potential. The biggest problem is that due to their aggressive playing style, neither Phillips nor Allen has lasted all 16 games in a season before. This has to be a real concern, especially with the decision to not pursue Dexter Jackson in free agency and missing out on Dwight Smith prior to the start of training camp. Kalvin Pearson has had a tremendous offseason and starred on special teams last year. His coverage skills are still developing and he is better against the run at this point of his career due to his physical nature. Pearson’s biggest obstacle is just his lack of playing time on defense. The same can be said for Donte Nicholson, last year’s fifth-round draft pick. Nicholson has yet to make an impact on defense or special teams and is not a lock to make the roster. Nicholson has to really improve in his coverage ability during the preseason. The Bucs moved cornerback Blue Adams to safety because the team was so deep at corner. Adams is a tough guy and a solid special teamer. Whether he can see the entire field and react quick enough when the ball is in the air will be the key in his transition. Steve Cargile is basically a camp body at this point in time.
CAMP STARS: Phillips and Allen

No. 11 QUARTERBACKS
Chris Simms is the quarterback position, which is a scary proposition for the Buccaneers right now. The guy the team wanted to be Simms’ backup, Luke McCown, is out for at least half the season due to a torn ACL. The season basically rests on Simms’ shoulders, especially his left one. As Simms goes, so does the offense. Because Cadillac Williams is such a dangerous runner and Simms is so inexperienced, defenses will stack the box to shut down the Bucs’ running game and blitz on passing downs. This unit wouldn’t be the weakest if not for the dilemma facing the Bucs’ depth chart after Simms. With McCown out, the backup job currently falls to Tim Rattay, who has been unimpressive in camp, by default. Rattay has not been getting good reviews from the Bucs’ brass and that’s why Jay Fiedler has been signed. The problem with Fiedler is that he’s rusty and has been rehabbing his throwing shoulder, which required offseason shoulder for a torn labrum. Fiedler is about a week away from practicing, but has a long way to go to catch up in terms of developing timing with the receivers and learning the playbook. Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski has been getting a lot of reps and has looked good at times in training camp. But he is still a rookie and has made his share of rookie mistakes. NFL Europe quarterback Jared Allen is strictly a training camp arm. Even if Fiedler and McCown weren’t ready to play this year, the Bucs would still take Rattay and Gradkowski into the season over Allen.
CAMP STARS: Simms and Gradkowski

NOTE: The Bucs’ kicking unit was not evaluated because it consists of just two individuals – kicker Matt Bryant and punter Josh Bidwell. Because of the ability these two demonstrated last year, Tampa Bay’s kicking game would rank in the top 5 if it were included in these rankings.


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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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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