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With Tampa Bay’s 2007 preseason coming to an end, I have decided to use this Pewter Insider column to share 12 random thoughts on the Buccaneers and the National Football League in a Dirty Dozen-type format.
Here goes nothing.
Random thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL.
1. The local media, Pewter Report included, made a big deal over Tampa Bay left tackle Luke Petitgout’s back issue in training camp, and you can’t blame them for being concerned about Petitgout’s health after watching him miss over a week of training camp practice. The Bucs did, after all, sign the likes of free agent tackles Todd Steussie and Derrick Deese, and invest a third-round draft pick in T Chris Colmer in recent years. All three offensive tackles were busts for different reasons. Petitgout, 31, had a back issue in New York and he was coming off of a serious leg injury when the Giants released him and the Bucs inked him to a contract in March. The Bucs insisted throughout camp that there was nothing seriously wrong with Petitgout’s back and that they were merely holding him out of practice as a precaution. Many in the media, Pewter Report not included, didn’t believe the Bucs were being truthful in their assessment of Petitgout. However, Petitgout has practiced and played in Tampa Bay’s last two preseason contests without incident (knock on wood), and I might add that he’s played pretty damn well. I’m not going to anoint him a Pro Bowl left tackle, but if his first two preseason performances are any indication, Petitgout could be the best left tackle Tampa Bay has had since Paul Gruber.
2. The Tampa Tribune reported on Saturday night that the Bucs likely would keep quarterback Chris Simms on their 53-man roster in 2007. After watching Simms struggle mightily during the offseason and in training camp, I’m not buying it. Yes, the Bucs have a 2003 third-round draft pick and 19 games invested in Simms, but this is a team that is coming off of 4-12 and has posted three losing seasons over the past four years. Simply put, Tampa Bay can’t afford to dedicate a 53-man roster spot to a player that is not only struggling with his form and mechanics, but a player that has thrown one touchdown and nine interceptions over his past four regular season starts. Simms is a talented quarterback, but he sticks out like a sore thumb in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense. He’s a left-handed signal caller and he’s not mobile. While he arguably has the strongest arm of any of Tampa Bay’s signal callers, Simms’ windup is the longest, which contributes to his batted balls problem. Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski possess similar attributes and are better fits for Gruden’s system. That said, I don’t see Simms surviving the second round of roster cuts on Saturday.
3. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Bucs are potentially one injury away from being back in the same boat as last year when they lost Chris Simms to a splenectomy and played rookie Bruce Gradkowski, who struggled in his place. Tampa Bay’s offense will be better with Jeff Garcia at the helm, but Bucs head coach Jon Gruden needs to help keep his 37-year-old quarterback healthy. Gruden can do that by calling a more balanced game. I know Gruden wants to throw the ball. Most West Coast offenses do, but you’ve got to have balance in the NFL. Tampa Bay has a first-round pick invested in Cadillac Williams, and he’s a running back that needs touches to get into a rhythm. Perhaps I’m being overly critical of Gruden’s offensive game plan vs. Miami, which called for Garcia to throw seven passes and Williams to run the ball just one time to start the game. It will be interesting to see how the Bucs come out and attack Seattle’s defense in Week 1. Garcia is mobile and he’s a fairly accurate passer, which is why Gruden wants to throw the ball even more in 2007. But it’s probably a safe bet that Garcia will not survive the season if he’s asked to drop back and throw 30-40 times per game.
4. Teams have proven in the past that they don’t necessarily need great play from their quarterback to advance in the playoffs. However, the teams that have had average quarterbacks and lots of success, like Baltimore with Trent Dilfer and Chicago with Rex Grossman, had one thing in common – great defenses. Tampa Bay’s defense should be improved this year. They might even be a top 10 unit with the additions of defensive ends Kevin Carter and Gaines Adams, and linebacker Cato June. However, Tampa Bay’s pass rush, or lack thereof, is still a concern from what I’ve seen in preseason. Allowing Miami to march down the field and score a touchdown on an 18-play drive is unacceptable, and it’s certainly not something a “great” defense makes a habit of doing. If the Bucs are going to rebound from 4-12 and make a run at the playoffs this season, their defense will have to find a way to get after the quarterback on a consistent basis.
5. Why are some in the media portraying Falcons quarterback Michael Vick like he’s a victim? He deserves everything he’s got coming to him in the way of punishment for his involvement in the dog fighting scandal. Notice how the word “alleged” was left out of that statement. That’s because Vick is entering a guilty plea in federal court on Monday. Not only did Vick fund a dog fighting business, he helped execute dogs that didn’t perform well by using methods such as hanging, electrocution, slamming the dogs to the ground and drowning them. The media has been covering this case closely, but why aren’t more talking heads calling Vick and his accomplices’ actions what they were – disgusting and inhumane? There are too many pundits that are talking about Vick as if he’s a victim. This is perplexing to say the least. The debate on when Vick should be allowed to play in the NFL again should be moot. Let’s dismiss the illegal gambling angle for a moment (although NFL commissioner Roger Goodell certainly will not do that), from a business perspective, what owner in his or her right mind is going to sign Vick when he gets out of prison? I know owners want to fill seats, but I don’t think they’re interested in having PETA fill and/or surround their stadium each week. What fan is going to actually cheer for someone who has admitted to doing such barbaric things to defenseless dogs? If Vick wants to continue to be a professional athlete when he gets out of prison, perhaps the Ultimate Fighting Championship would be an appropriate arena for him. Unlike the innocent dogs he and his accomplices tortured and killed, at least Vick would be afforded the opportunity to defend himself there.
6. Consider the competition at the center position over, Bucs fans. John Wade has won the job hands down. The Bucs did everything they could to kick Wade to the curb this offseason by moving Dan Buenning to center and signing free agent C Matt Lehr. However, to his credit, Wade, 32, has played quite well in training camp and preseason. In fact, Wade had one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play on Saturday night in Miami. Two of Wade’s better run blocks came on Cadillac Williams’ 12- and 14-yard runs against the Dolphins. While the Bucs likely will continue to do a lot of perimeter running, Wade appears to be playing with a chip on his shoulder, and the Bucs can only hope he continues to play that way, even after the regular season begins.
7. I’m not sold on linebacker Cato June’s ability to play the run just yet, but I can’t help but like what I’ve seen from him on passing plays. A former safety, June is arguably the fastest linebacker on Tampa Bay’s roster, and he has a nose for the football, evidenced by is ability to read a screen pass from quarterback Trent Green to running back Ronnie Brown and intercept the throw for a touchdown on Saturday night. What’s important to note is June was making splash plays on a consistent basis throughout training camp. If June turns out to be a reliable tackler against the run (the jury is still out), he could turn out to be the steal of free agency for the Bucs.
8. Tampa Bay has spent training camp and the preseason toying with different personnel groupings along its defensive line. The one I’d prefer to see when the Bucs open the regular season in Seattle with is Greg Spires (left end), Kevin Carter (under tackle), Chris Hovan (nose tackle) and Gaines Adams (right end). Carter is better suited as a defensive end, but the Bucs have to get Carter, who has notched 97.5 career sacks, on the field. This guy makes plays and can get after the quarterback. Jovan Haye is quicker, but he hasn’t shown me enough to make believe he is worthy of starting at the three technique spot. That honor should go to Carter, but the Bucs can still work some other guys in to the rotation in order to keep the 34-year-old Carter fresh. Some have called Adams a bust, but that is truly an ignorant statement to anyone that has been watching Tampa Bay’s preseason games. Adams has shown the ability to rush the passer, and he’s been playing the run better than expected. His motor is constantly going, and Adams has good instincts and long arms, which have allowed him to defend several passes at the line of scrimmage. Patrick Chukwurah might get the start at right end in Seattle, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adams eventually unseat him before midway through the 2007 regular season.
9. Is anyone else a bit concerned about Tampa Bay’s wide receivers? This group looks great on paper. It is made up of four former first-round draft picks in Joey Galloway, David Boston, Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard. Maurice Stovall is a former third-round pick, and the Bucs might even keep two more receivers, Paris Warren and Mark Jones, on their 53-man roster. While there’s no disputing the fact that this unit is talented, I’ve become a bit concerned about their ability to separate from defenders on a consistent basis. With the exception of Galloway, these are not the fastest wide receivers in the league. After watching Tampa Bay’s three preseason games again, it looks as though quarterback Jeff Garcia is often times having a difficult time finding open receivers. This may or may not be the case, and Pewter Report plans to keep a close eye on these receivers at the beginning of the regular season. However, it’s important to note that Garcia is one of the better care-taking quarterbacks in the NFL, evidenced by the fact that he’s thrown just 73 interceptions in 2,973 career pass attempts. That comes out to one pick roughly every 40 throws. Garcia has great pocket awareness and wisely uses his scrambling ability to move the ball when receivers don’t appear to be open. That might have more to do with what I’ve been seeing (or not seeing) from some of Tampa Bay’s receivers more so than anything else.
10. Bucs wide receiver Mark Jones could very well make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster, but if I’m the Bucs I desperately want to put the ball in cornerback Phillip Buchanon’s hands on punt and kickoff returns. Jones is a serviceable return man, but he hasn’t shown the ability to make many big plays, which in turn would go a long way in helping the Bucs offense establish better field position. Buchanon, on the other hand, does some special things with the ball in his hands. He’s scored seven touchdowns since entering the NFL in 2002, and he’s not even an offensive player. Buchanon has scored four touchdowns on interception returns and returned three punts for touchdowns during his career. The only deterrent I can see from the Bucs’ perspective in terms of having him return punts and kickoffs might be the idea of life without Buchanon on defense. If they lose Buchanon to injury, the Bucs will be in serious trouble since they are lacking depth behind their top three cornerbacks. That might ultimately be why Tampa Bay elects to keep Jones on its active roster.
11. The most overlooked aspect of Tampa Bay’s preseason thus far? Try Matt Bryant’s success on field goal attempts. Through three exhibition contests, Bryant is 3-of-3 on field goal tries. Bryant’s record-setting 62-yard field goal vs. the Eagles overshadowed some of his kicking woes last season. In fact, Bryant made just 77.3 percent of his attempts in 2006. This Bucs team isn’t going to blow out a lot of opponents in 2006, and they’re going to need an accurate kicker, not the Martin Gramatica-type of production the Bucs had during the 2003 regular season when Gramatica made just 61.5 percent of his attempts. Bucs fans should no better than to take their field goal kickers for granted. The good news is Bryant has displayed an accurate leg thus far.
12. Jon Gruden may or may not be the head coach of the Buccaneers after this season. It will all depend on how Tampa Bay fares in 2007. Although Tampa Bay’s season hasn’t even started yet, some still are calling for a change in Tampa Bay. Are you one of the Bucs fans that wants Gruden to be fired? If so, whom would you replace him with? Bill Cowher? Urban Meyer? Someone else? I’m going to give you some particulars on one head coach’s resume’ and you decide if this is an ideal replacement for Gruden.
*Has an overall regular season record of 77-67
*Has won four division championships over the past seven seasons
*Has taken two teams to Championship Games since 2000
*Has won one Super Bowl title
*Has posted a losing season in three of his nine years as a head coach in the NFL
If you’re ready to hire this person as your head coach, you’re not ready to fire Gruden. Why? Because these are the accomplishments of Tampa Bay’s current head coach.
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