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BUCS NOT DONE AT RUNNING BACK Tampa Bay may or may not sign newly acquired running back Michael Bennett to a contract extension. Bennett, 29, is in the final year of his deal and the Bucs likely will wait and see how he fares in Tampa Bay's offense before deciding whether to keep him beyond the 2007 season.
But one thing is for sure – the Bucs will be active in terms of attempting to solidify their running back position in 2008 since there's a significant amount of uncertainty surrounding this position past this season.
Cadillac Williams' season is over and the former first-round pick's career could be in jeopardy after sustaining a torn patellar tendon against Carolina. It is highly unlikely that Williams will be 100 percent healthy this time next year, which could be a real problem.
Michael Pittman will miss at least another five weeks before he returns from a severely sprained ankle he suffered in Indianapolis. While he likely will recover from the injury, Pittman is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March and turns 33 in August.
Mike Alstott is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2007 season and will turn 34 in December. Age aside, Alstott is on injured reserve after suffering his second neck injury since 2003, which likely will lead to his retirement at the end of the season.
Bennett and Zack Crockett, who turns 35 in December, are also scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next year, leaving the Bucs with just two healthy and experienced backs – Earnest Graham and B.J. Askew – under contract through the '08 season.
It's not hard to make a case for Tampa Bay targeting two running backs in free agency next year, especially when you consider Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's preference for two-back sets, which he used in Philadelphia with Charlie Garner and Ricky Waters, in Oakland with Garner and Tyrone Wheatley and in Tampa Bay with Pittman and Williams.
Tampa Bay's running game also has plenty of room for improvement. The Bucs' ground attack has ranked 28th, 14th, 29th, 24th and 27th over the past five seasons under Gruden, and it currently ranks 19th six games into the 2007 season.
One of the backs the Bucs target could be Bennett. The good news is the team has until March to decide whether to re-sign him or let him test free agency.
Should the Bucs allow Bennett to walk, they likely would pursue running backs Mewelde Moore and Michael Turner, both of whom are scheduled to hit the free agent market in March.
The 5-foot-10, 237-pound Turner has rushed for 1,150 career yards (6.1 avg.) and six touchdowns and caught nine passes for 69 yards since entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick in 2004.
Moore (5-11, 209) has rushed for 1,243 career yards (4.9 avg.) and one touchdown. He's the more experience pass catcher of the two, evidenced by his 116 receptions for 1,093 yards (9.4 avg.) and three touchdowns since entering the league as a fourth-round selection in 2004.
While both players are 25 and considered in their prime, they also lack starts. Moore has started just 11 of the 49 career games he's played in and Turner has started just one of the 49 career games he's participated in.
Still, Moore and Turner likely will draw significant interest from the Bucs and other teams due to the production they've had with their respective teams and the upside both players are believed to have.
Even if the Bucs re-sign Bennett, either Moore or Turner could still wind up in Tampa Bay. The Bucs will, after all, have the salary cap room to sign them. That's $30 million to be exact.
The Bucs attempted to bolster their quarterback position during the offseason after watching Chris Simms and Luke McCown suffer what basically amounted to season-ending injuries and Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay turn in inconsistent play in Simms' place.
Those circumstances prompted the Bucs to re-sign Simms, ink Jeff Garcia to a deal in free agency and trade for Jake Plummer. Don't be surprised if the Bucs address the running back position with the same sense of urgency in 2008.
SHOULD THE BUCS HAVE DRAFTED RB PETERSON? The Bucs should have drafted running back Adrian Peterson back in April, right? He has, after all, taken the league by storm by rushing 96 times for 607 yards (6.3 avg.) and four touchdowns while catching 10 passes for 175 yards and scoring one touchdown in his first five games.
Tampa Bay has suffered a rash of injuries at the running back position and could have used the 6-foot-1, 217-pound Peterson, who the Bucs passed on at the top of the first round in favor of defensive end Gaines Adams, who has just one sack through six games.
Well, it's easy to make these claims now. Hindsight is always perfect, but let's go back to April for a moment. There were several reasons why the Bucs passed on the opportunity to draft Peterson.
The Bucs invested a 2005 first-round draft pick in Cadillac Williams. Peterson, like Williams, had injury issues in college, which caused him to slip a bit in the first round. Not only did the Bucs have Williams under contract, they also had Michael Pittman.
Tampa Bay also needed to address its defensive line. Simeon Rice, 33, was coming off of season-ending shoulder surgery and a sub-par season. The Bucs also produced just 26 sacks in 2006.
There's also no guarantee Peterson would be having the same type of success in Tampa Bay as he is in Minnesota. And before people insist that Peterson's early success in an indication that the Bucs should have drafted him instead of Adams, it's important to note that Williams also had a sensational rookie campaign, rushing for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns en route to earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
There's no doubt that Peterson deserves a lot of credit for his performance on the field thus far, but he could be an injury away from making Adams look like the right pick for the Bucs at No. 4 overall in the 2007 NFL Draft.
DENVER STILL WAITING FOR A SERVING OF RICE Speaking of Gaines Adams, has anyone been paying attention to what former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice has been doing in Denver? Having a tough time finding his stats? Well, that's because Rice isn't doing much these days. Through four games, Rice has notched just five tackles and one pass defensed. He's still looking for his first sack as a Bronco.
The Bucs released Rice on July 26 after he failed a team physical and refused to reduce his base salary from $7.25 million to approximately $5 million and sign a one-year contract extension.
That move proved to be controversial to say the least. Some speculated that Rice's shoulder was healthy and that the team just wanted to release him to pave the way for Adams.
But Rice wasn't signed by any team until September, and when he did ink a deal with Denver it was a one-year contract worth $3 million – approximately $2 million less than what the Bucs were offering with his restructured contract.
As it turns out, Rice's shoulder still isn't right, which means the Bucs weren't lying about his health, as some suggested. In fact, the Broncos made him inactive for their Oct. 7 game against San Diego due to ongoing shoulder pain.
If you don't believe me, just read what Rice recently disclosed to the Denver Post about his ongoing shoulder ailment.
"A farce. It was a faulty me," said Rice, who has 121 career sacks. "You haven't seen the real Simeon Rice. That hasn't been me out there.
"It was humbling for me not to be out there [against San Diego], but that was the right thing to do. Look at the tape: I wasn't getting it done. I was hardly playing with two arms. A lot of the time, I wasn't able to play with my left arm. The coaches looked at the film and told me I wasn't right. I didn't want to believe it, but it was the best thing for me.
"I thought my left arm was going to explode [when I batted the ball down against Buffalo]. It was terrible."
Hard to believe this is coming from the same player that declared himself fit and healthy to play shortly after the Bucs released him.
Adams hasn't shown up enough in the sack column, but he has 18 tackles and has played fairly well against the run. The Bucs have just 11 sacks through six games and they need Adams to come around in that department, but this team's pass rush wouldn't be any better with Rice right now. That's for sure.
KEEP AN EYE ON DE ALLEN With former Kansas City defensive tackle Ryan Simms and running back Michael Bennett in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers are quietly hoping three Chiefs will be the charm next year.
Tampa Bay defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg Spires will turn 35 and 34, respectively, in 2008, so Bucs likely will be in the market for a veteran defensive end in March, and they can only hope that Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen hits the free agent market.
The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Allen is off to a great start this season. He's notched six sacks thus far and has 33.5 career sacks and 12 forced fumbles since originally entering the league as a fourth-round draft pick in 2004.
Having a skilled pass rusher like Allen, 25, would be so valuable to Tampa Bay's defense, which prides itself after getting after the quarterback. Allen would produce sacks and free up some of Tampa Bay's younger defensive lineman, namely Gaines Adams, Chris Hovan, Greg Peterson and Greg White, to make plays and pressure opposing teams' signal callers.
Tampa Bay was interested in signing a veteran defensive end during the 2007 offseason, but New Orleans, Indianapolis and Cincinnati slapped the franchise tag on Charles Grant, Dwight Freeney and Justin Smith, respectively. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Chiefs are already talking about franchising Allen, who has some character concerns due to his two DUI arrests in 2006.
However, if Allen, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, somehow hits the free agent market, expect the Bucs to make a strong push for him.
TIDBIT OF THE WEEK I recently had a chance to talk at length with Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton, and one of the things he stressed to me was how tight this 4-2 Bucs team is right now from a chemistry standpoint.Â In fact, Clayton said the last time he was on a team with this type of chemistry he won a national championship with LSU.Â
Now, no one knows what the Bucs will win, if anything, this season, but Clayton's sentiment certainly suggests something special is happening at One Buccaneer Place right now.
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