Copyright 2009 PewterReport.com
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.
In his last season in Tampa Bay, head coach Jon Gruden had just four players – cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Jermaine Phillips and fullback Jameel Cook – from his Super Bowl XXXVII team on the Bucs' roster.
It took the Bucs the ensuing six seasons after they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in San Diego to get the team to the point where they had just a foursome of players remaining from the 2002 season.
New Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris have been on the job just five months, but it hasn't taken them long to put their stamp on the 2009 Buccaneers roster.
Gruden and former general manager Bruce Allen refused to completely rebuild the team and instead had a turnstile at One Buccaneer Place that continually kicked veterans out while bringing new ones in, which is one of the reasons why they were dismissed in January.
The Bucs had produced two straight 9-7 seasons, and ownership got to the point where it decided this was about as good as it was going to get under Gruden and Allen, which prompted them to promote Morris and Dominik.
One of the first things Dominik and Morris did was paint a picture to illustrate which direction the Bucs were going to go under the "new regime." With the release of five aging veterans, including 11-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks, the message was pretty clear – the Bucs are rebuilding.
Dominik and Morris have also taken character into consideration more than the previous regime. Dominik balked at signing free agent tackle Khalif Barnes because of previous character issues, and the team released wide receiver Anthony Mix earlier this week due to legal trouble.
Tampa Bay has embarked on a youth movement, so don't expect the team to become interested in signing available veteran free agents like defensive end Jason Taylor or cornerback Chris McAllister. Signing veteran players that are past their primes would steal valuable playing time away from some of the Bucs' younger players, and the team has plenty of them, evidenced by the fact that once the team parts ways with Brian Griese it will have just six players on their roster that are over the age of 30.
Before Dominik and Morris can determine where they are as a team they must first find out what they have in some of Gruden and Allen's draft picks, who rarely got to see the field while playing behind veterans.
That strategy has led to the some significant — and interesting — turnover at One Buc Place.
It will start at quarterback, where the Bucs allowed Jeff Garcia to walk via free agency and likely will soon release or trade Griese. Both those quarterbacks started games for the Bucs in 2008.
Change at this particular position is nothing new to Bucs fans. After all, Gruden went through quarterbacks like Hugh Hefner goes through Playboy Playmates.
Dominik's first order of business as G.M. was to give the most important position in football some stability and youth by attempting to find a long-term solution in Luke McCown, whom the Bucs re-signed to a two-year contract.
Just a few weeks before the draft Dominik signed free agent QB Byron Leftwich, but perhaps his boldest move was using Tampa Bay's first-round pick to select Kansas State QB Josh Freeman. It marked the first time since 1994 the Bucs had used a first-round pick on a quarterback.
The Bucs feel confident that out of the group of McCown, Freeman, Leftwich and Josh Johnson a franchise quarterback will emerge.
Tampa Bay's offensive backfield could also have a new starter in Derrick Ward, who was signed in free agency. The competition is ongoing, but Ward appears to have the edge over Earnest Graham since Ward participates in offseason workouts while Graham typically works out on his own, and the Bucs paid Ward to be the starter, evidenced by the fact that he will earn $3 million in base salary while Graham earns $2 million this year.
While Ward might be the new starting tailback, Graham will continue to receive plenty of carries in Jeff Jagodzinski's run-first offense. One player that won't be running the football for the Bucs is Warrick Dunn, who was released after signing with Tampa Bay last year.
The receiver position remains intact, and that was Dominik's choice as he elected to place the franchise tag on Antonio Bryant and re-sign WR Michael Clayton in free agency. But after those two starters playing time is up for grabs since Dominik released Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard. With those two aging veterans gone, younger receivers like Maurice Stovall, Dexter Jackson, Kelly Campbell and seventh-round draft pick Sammie Stroughter, who has a legitimate shot at making Tampa Bay's 53-man roster based on what we saw from him at rookie mini-camp, are battling for playing time and roster spots.
If the Bucs have success offensively under Morris this year Gruden and Allen will deserve some credit for helping to assemble Tampa Bay's offensive line, which remains intact and is considered the strongest unit on offense in terms of potential and depth. Jagodzinski may get the most out of this unit with his zone-blocking scheme.
Last year's starting tight end, Alex Smith, has been shipped to New England thanks to the arrival of Pro Bowl TE Kellen Winslow via a trade with Cleveland. Although the Bucs likely will use plenty of two-tight end sets, Winslow will be Tampa Bay's new starter at tight end, giving the Bucs offense a total of at least three new projected starters in 2009.
On defense, Tampa Bay will have a new starting defensive tackle in Ryan Sims, who was re-signed during the offseason and replaces Jovan Haye, who signed with Tennessee in free agency. Sims has the big body and push that new defensive coordinator Jim Bates requires from his defensive tackles. If third-round pick Roy Miller beats out Chris Hovan the Bucs will have two new starting DTs this season.
The Bucs could have a new starting defensive end in Jimmy Wilkerson, whom some believe could beat out Stylez G. White and rookie Kyle Moore for a starting job.
Dominik and Morris have completely revamped Tampa Bay's linebacking corps. Gone are Brooks and Cato June. The only certainty at this position is that Barrett Ruud will start at middle linebacker. The outside linebacker jobs are open for competition between former safety Jermaine Phillips and Geno Hayes, and newcomer Angelo Crowell and Quincy Black. Regardless of who starts around Ruud, Tampa Bay will have two new starters at both outside linebacker spots.
Tampa Bay's secondary also features two new full-time starters in second-year CB Aqib Talib and third-year S Sabby Piscitelli. Talib replaces Phillip Buchanon, who signed with the Lions in free agency, while Piscitelli fills the vacant starting safety spot left by Phillips moving to linebacker. Talib's promotion also means the Bucs likely will have a new nickel cornerback. Elbert Mack is the leading candidate to win the nickel job.
So the Bucs defense could have as many as six new starters, which is more than half of the 11 starters from last year's Buccaneer defense.
If you add the three new projected starters from the offensive side of the ball to that total, along with the possibility of kicker Mike Nugent beating out Matt Bryant for a job, the total of new starters on Dominik and Morris' Bucs team could be as high as nearly 50 percent from one year ago.
Now that's what you call change, but whether the changes taking place at One Buc Place are for the better remains to be seen.