Copyright 2007 PewterReport.com

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Here are some random thoughts for Bucs fans to chew on as you prepare to watch Tampa Bay kick off the 2007 regular season against the Seattle Seahawks at 4:15 p.m. ET on Sunday.

WHAT HAPPENED TO WR MAURICE STOVALL?
If you would have told me before the preseason started that one of the Bucs’ wide receivers was going to catch 15 passes and score four touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s four exhibition contests and asked me to predict the player, I would have said Maurice Stovall.

Of course, that wouldn’t have been correct. Bucs WR Paris Warren accomplished that preseason feat before suffering a season-ending ankle injury vs. Houston.

Stovall, who turned in an outstanding training camp by running solid routes and catching nearly every pass thrown his way, caught just four passes for 40 yards during preseason. Not exactly the type of production the second-year receiver out of Notre Dame needed to hold onto the starting flanker job he had briefly earned in training camp.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden suggested a few weeks ago that Stovall had hit a wall physically, which was why he wasn’t that productive in preseason. As a result, no one has been anointed Tampa Bay’s starting flanker. Instead, it likely will be done by a committee that includes Stovall, Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard and David Boston.

But Stovall’s disappearing act and the Bucs’ explanation for it didn’t make much sense initially. How can an athlete that is typically the first player out on the practice field and the last one off of it hit a physical wall?

As it turns out, Pewter Report might have uncovered the answer in its own question. Perhaps Stovall hit a wall physically because he used so much energy working on the field 30 to 60 minutes before each training camp practice and staying after another 30 minutes after each two-hour training camp workout had concluded. That time adds up over all of the OTAs and training camp practices.

Even Gruden mentioned this possibility when Pewter Report asked him about Stovall’s unimpressive preseason.

“He stays after practice, how tired are his damn legs if he’s doing that?” Gruden asked. “Everyone is documenting his after-practice workouts. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know.

“He’s got to pick it up. He’s got to pick it up to see the field. He knows that. I like Maurice. He’s a great kid, a hard worker and he has talent. But I don’t want to hear about dead legs. That’s part of the profession you are in. You’ve got to be able to run all day.”

After doing a little more digging, Pewter Report learned that Stovall has actually been dealing with cramping and dehydration issues since his playing days at Notre Dame, and those issues have carried over to his playing career in the NFL.

The fact that Stovall is practicing in hot and humid Tampa and Orlando throughout the year instead of South Bend, Indiana certainly isn’t helping him in regards to staying hydrated.

But to his credit, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Stovall has been working through those challenges and has turned in a solid week of practice, according to Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann.

“I think when he hit a wall he hit a wall physically,” said Mann. “His legs got a little tight and he cramped up a little bit. He had more problems like this the previous year. He did a real good job this year, but his legs started to bother him as camp went on.

“He’s got a history of spending himself as far as his muscles go and he’s got a history of cramping up. It’s not to be expected, but at some point it’s going to happen because of the kind of worker he is. We dealt with it and we’re passed that. We’re getting ready to go out and play Seattle. Maurice has done a good job this week.”

Stovall’s work ethic has been compared to that of future Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice. The Bucs aren’t about to ask Stovall to change that. Instead, they’re prepared to deal with it and help Stovall push through the cramping issues so he can hopefully become the receiver that one day solidifies the flanker position in Tampa Bay’s offense.

“That’s what he is and that’s what he’s been his whole life, and there ain’t no use in trying to change him,” Mann said of the extra work Stovall puts in on the practice field. “What we try to do is draw from what he’s done and be smart about what he’s doing as far as his body goes. We’ve got to take care of his body. If body isn’t any good come Sunday than he isn’t going to be any good. We just have to be smart about it.

“He did a good job this offseason and in training camp. He hit a little bit of a wall, but it wasn’t a mental wall. It was a physical thing. Sometimes if your body isn’t right other things aren’t right. He’s still growing and we’re going to continue to nurture him and someday we’re going to have an excellent player.”

True to his character, Stovall didn’t offer up any excuses for why he didn’t perform better during the preseason. He simply said he would continue to work hard in an effort to work his way into the starting lineup.

“I don’t have an excuse for my performance, whether it was in the game or practice,” said Stovall. “I think Coach Gruden’s final decision is the best decision. Being a team player you can’t argue with that or complain about that because he’s putting his best players out on the field. Because of my performance I’m not the starter, and that’s just the way it is.”

Does Stovall have any regrets about putting in all of the extra work before and after practice during the offseason and in training camp?

“Did it backfire?” Stovall asked. “It is a lot of extra work, but I don’t give any excuses. I’m not sure I’d change any of that. I don’t have the starting position, but I’m still working for it.”

SIMMS GRATEFUL TO BE A BUC
I’m still trying to understand Tampa Bay’s decision to keep four quarterbacks on its 53-man roster.

Some pundits thought Simms, who took just six snaps in preseason and lost a large percentage of his practice reps to quarterbacks Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski, would be cut last Saturday. Apparently they weren’t the only ones thinking that was a possibility.

“I was definitely nervous, no doubt about it,” Simms said when asked if he thought he was in danger of not making the team. “I’m truly glad that I’m here right now. I’m very grateful to this organization for sticking with me while I work through this. This organization has been very good to me.’

But there’s no guarantee Simms will be a Buc come Sunday.

Why?

Because Simms’ $2 million base salary will be guaranteed for the 2007 season if he’s still on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster come Sunday, which would essentially guarantee him $5 million from the two-year contract extension he signed back in December.

However, if the Bucs release or trade Simms before Sunday, they would actually create $1 million in cap room (they are currently $17 million under the salary cap) and take a $1 million cap hit in 2008.

It looks like Simms is no longer a candidate for injured reserve. He never was when he was struggling with his throwing form and mechanics, but the hip injury he suffered just before the preseason finale vs. Houston had some wondering if Simms would eventually land on injured reserve with that respective ailment.

But according to Simms, that will not be the case.

“It wasn’t serious, not at all,” Simms said of his hip injury. “I just tweaked a little muscle, but now I’m fine. It hasn’t really hurt me in practice. Once Wednesday rolled around I was ready to go. The only thing that really hurt me in terms of the injury was bad timing. It was two days before the game, so it wasn’t really good timing for that to happen.”

Our guess is that the Bucs are thinking they have a lot invested in Simms (third-round pick, 16 career starts, etc.) and that right now he’s merely taking the roster spot of a player that would be inactive on Sundays anyway. They’ve also had their fair share of injuries at quarterback, so if Simms can return to form he could come in handy should starting QB Jeff Garcia suffer a injury late in the season.

Simms probably will stay with the Bucs in some form or fashion this year, but I still find it difficult to believe that the team will keep four signal callers on their roster throughout the entire season.

Despite the limited amount of reps he’s receiving in practice, Simms feels like he’s making a significant amount of progress, which is certainly good news for both he and the Bucs.

“I see a light at the end of the tunnel,’ said Simms. “I’ve been saying that for about a week and a half or two weeks. I can feel my progress after each practice. I’m just going to continue to do the exercises they have me doing. I really have been feeling better day-by-day.

“I can’t put a percentage on it, but all I know is the old me is coming back. I’m just trying to build on that.”

SIMEON PASSED ON AN EXTRA SERVING OF RICE
Former Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice might have cut off his nose to spite his face on July 26.

That’s when the Bucs asked Rice, 33, to reduce his base salary from $7.25 million to approximately $5.5 million and extend his contract with the team by one year after he failed a team physical.

Rice refused to do so, which prompted the Bucs to release him on the same day the Bucs reported to training camp.

Rice spent half of the 2006 season on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. He also notched just two sacks in eight games last season.

After weighing his options as a free agent, Rice eventually signed with the Denver Broncos on Tuesday.

However, Rice reportedly signed a one-year contract worth only $3 million, meaning he turned down about $2 million and the opportunity to be under contract with the Bucs when he turns 34 in February.

Rice as a great player and the Bucs could certainly use him this Sunday in Seattle, especially with Patrick Chukwurah (knee) out of this contest and rookie DE Gaines Adams facing Pro Bowl LT Walter Jones.

But in hindsight, the Bucs were wise to ask Rice, who was the highest paid defensive player in the NFL from 2003-06, to restructure his salary to better reflect his market value, and Rice was foolish for refusing to do it.

BOSTON LEGAL
No one knows for sure if Bucs wide receiver David Boston is guilty of driving under the influence of an illegal substance, and that’s not for me to decide. Boston likely will face a misdemeanor DUI charge after a urinalysis tested positive for one of the many illegal substances it was tested for.

Boston maintained his innocence through a statement released by the Bucs on Thursday night.

"All I am able to say at this time is that I have done nothing wrong; I was not impaired,” Boston said in the statement. “I have assured, and will continue to assure, the Buccaneers that I have done nothing wrong. And, in the end when this matter is resolved the facts will show that I have done nothing wrong. I appreciate the Buccaneers organization believing in me and the fans for their support."

The allegations against Boston are serious in nature. Thank goodness he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and not while he was driving, and hopefully he fell asleep because he was tired, not because he was under the influence of an illegal substance that might have endangered his life as well as everyone else on the road that night.

I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt unless they convince me to believe otherwise. I believe in good and evil, and I also believe some people have better luck than others. But I can’t help but be concerned with the black cloud over Boston’s head if bad luck is indeed coming in to play here.

That’s because Boston has a track record of incidents. According to the Miami Herald, Boston tested positive for marijuana and cocaine during a routine traffic stop in 2002. In 2004, Boston was charged with simple assault in Virginia for striking a ticket agent at an airport. He eventually pleaded no contest to that charge. And that same year, Boston was suspended four games by the NFL for testing positive for steroids, an allegation and decision that he later appealed and denied, but to no avail.

"I am very disappointed that the NFL denied my appeal," Boston said in a statement published by ESPN in December of 2004. "I did not take any anabolic steroids but it was decided that I tested for a related substance. I am optimistic that further medical evaluation will explain this positive test and vacate my suspension."

The Bucs, who felt Boston was on the right path and had performed well in the offseason, training camp and preseason, likely will let this whole thing play out in court and then decide whether to keep Boston or cut him. That’s probably the right thing to do for now.

While some are not willing to give Boston the benefit of the doubt this time around, the Bucs are, and one can only hope that the case turns out in Boston’s favor as opposed to the alternative, which would make both the player and the team look bad in this situation.

To make matters worse, Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens was convicted by a jury of a DUI in Scottsdale, Ariz. On Friday. Like Boston, Stevens had prior run-ins with the law, but the Bucs were still willing to give him another chance.

The bottom line is even if the Bucs don’t step in to take disciplinary action against Boston and/or Stevens, the NFL likely will.

BUCS GET SOME HELP FROM THE COLTS
Tampa Bay hasn’t even played its first regular season game of the year yet, but it couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2007 season.

The Bucs’ NFC South division rival – the New Orleans Saints – were handed a 41-10 loss by the Colts in Indianapolis on Thursday night. That was a crushing defeat for the defending NFC South champs.

No pundits expect the Bucs to go in to Seattle and pull off the upset over the Seahawks on Sunday, but if they can somehow do it the stage would be set for a huge showdown between the Bucs and Saints at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 16.

If Tampa Bay starts off 1-0, the Bucs will have the opportunity to improve to 2-0 and send the defending NFC South champs to 0-2 with a win over the Saints. Talk about making 4-12 a distant memory. That’s exactly what the 2006 season would be if the Bucs start off 2-0 this season. But first things first – Tampa Bay must take care of business in Seattle.

TOUGH START
On a similar note, it won’t be the end of the world if the Bucs lose in Seattle on Sunday. Why? Because there’s a good chance the entire NFC South division could start the season 0-1. New Orleans has already lost, Tampa Bay faces a tough Seahawks team in Seattle, and Carolina and Atlanta have tough road trips in St. Louis and Minnesota, respectively.

ROAD WARRIORS
Here’s the bad news. Under head coach Jon Gruden, the Bucs are just 2-3 in regular season openers.

The good news is both of those wins came in hostile road environments. In 2003, Tampa Bay opened up the regular season in Philadelphia, where the Eagles unveiled their new stadium. The Bucs handed the Eagles a 17-0 loss in that contest. In 2005, no one gave Tampa Bay a chance of winning in Minnesota, but the Bucs escaped the Metrodome with a 24-13 win over the Vikings in Week 1.

Seattle won’t be an easy place to get a win, but it’s not impossible for Tampa Bay pull off the upset on Sunday.

INTERESTING TREND IN NFC SOUTH
I’ve written and talked about this tidbit before, but I think it bares repeating.

Not only has the NFC South division never had a team repeat as champions, each team that has won the division title finished in last place in the division the prior year.

Tampa Bay was an example of this in 2005 when the Bucs went from worst to first place in the NFC South division en route to producing an 11-5 record.

New Orleans kept this trend alive last year when it went from 3-13 to 10-6 and won the NFC South. Tampa Bay might not field the most talented team in the NFL this year, but this crazy trend alone should have the Bucs and their fans somewhat optimistic (or at least hopeful) for the start of the new season.

LOTS OF CHANGES IN TAMPA BAY
This is not the Bucs team from a year ago, Bucs fans. In fact, Tampa Bay has at least nine new starters – quarterback Jeff Garcia, fullback B.J. Askew (or Michael Pittman), left tackle Luke Petitgout, left guard Arron Sears, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, right defensive end Gaines Adams, strongside linebacker Cato June, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and free safety Tanard Jackson.

If you go back to Tampa Bay’s first game of the 2006 regular season, the Bucs will have as many as 11 new starters – Garcia, Askew (or Pittman), Petitgout, Sears, right guard Davin Joseph, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, Haye, Adams, June, Ruud and Jackson, when they take the field to play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Throw in the fact that there’s a good chance Tampa Bay will have a new starting flanker (either David Boston, Maurice Stovall or Ike Hilliard over Michael Clayton), nickel cornerback Phillip Buchanon is playing in his place of former Bucs CB Juran Bolden and WR Mark Jones is no longer fielding kicks or punts for the Bucs, and it’s easy to see that over half of Tampa Bay’s starting lineup has changed since this time last year.

Is this a good or a bad thing? We’ll soon find out, but my initial feeling after watching training camp and preseason is this Bucs team is much better than the 4-12 club we watched last year.

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