Copyright 2008

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Tampa Bay running back Michael Bennett led the team in rushing in the preseason with 203 yards on 45 carries (4.5 avg.) and one touchdown. He also ranked second on the team in receptions with 10 for 52 yards. Bennett earned more playing time behind Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn, but he might not be rewarded accordingly.

Each NFL team can only suit up 46 of their 53 players on game days, per league-mandated rules. Although Tampa Bay hasn't announced it, there are strong indications that Bennett will be one of seven players made inactive for Sunday's regular season opener in New Orleans.

"I do believe ," said Bennett, who has not received a lot of reps in practice this week and has spent most of his time playing on the scout team offense. "It's one of those things where you get caught up in the numbers. It's disappointing, but my main goal at this point is to stay focused because that's all I can control."

Bennett has been in this situation before. After he was traded from Kansas City to Tampa Bay last October, he received a limited number of reps in games while he attempted to digest head coach Jon Gruden's playbook.

He finished the season with 41 carries for 189 yards and scored one touchdown and caught five passes for 54 yards and added another score via the passing game in eight games with Tampa Bay.

Despite being frustrated with his limited role in Tampa Bay's offense last year, Bennett opted to re-sign with the Buccaneers before he even hit the free agent market. He inked a two-year deal that included a $750,000 signing bonus.

With Cadillac Williams coming off of a serious knee injury and unlikely to play in some, if not all, of the 2008 season, Bennett thought he'd have a significant role in the offense behind Earnest Graham.

What Bennett, 30, didn't know is that the Bucs were going to add another veteran running back to the mix in Warrick Dunn, who was signed shortly after he was released by Atlanta in March.

"I understood that Graham was here, but I didn't know how deep we were going to be," said Bennett. "I was under the impression that I'd have at least some type of role on offense. It still may work out that way, but right now I have to run [scout] team and give the defense a good look.

"I just have to wait my turn. If I get in, then I get in. If I don't then I just have to deal with it."

Bennett remains a team player … for now. One reason why he remains patient is because of the heavy workload he received in preseason. But his thirst for playing time will only quenched for so long.

"It helped a little bit," Bennett said of his playing time in preseason. "But this is when it really counts and this is when you want to be out there. It's tough for me to swallow. I'm not going to lie about it. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

A few weeks ago, Bucs fans learned through their Pewter Insider subscriptions that second-year safety Sabby Piscitelli likely would work his way onto the field beyond his role on special teams in 2008.

What exactly will Piscitelli's role be on defense? He is, after all, playing behind starters Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson.

"That's classified information there, so I can't give it away," said Phillips. "All I can tell you is you're going to definitely see Sabby on the field more this year. I'll leave it at that."

Pewter Report has done some more digging and determined that Piscitelli's creative role on defense could make its as early as the regular season opener in New Orleans on Sunday.

"It's no secret that Sabby is going to play," said Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. "He'll be out there playing some safety stuff. You can expect to see him in this game in some different roles. New Orleans comes out with a bunch of different receivers, and they're talented, so you have to match them man for man."

None of our sources would show Pewter Report a blueprint on how Piscitelli will be used vs. the Saints, and wisely so. Tampa Bay's defense ranked No. 1 overall vs. the pass last year, so it's tough to imagine Piscitelli replacing Jackson or Phillips during the game unless there is an injury. That said, our best guess is that Piscitelli will serve as a third safety, perhaps in a dime defense, with Jackson, a former college cornerback, essentially playing cornerback when Piscitelli is on the field. That would allow all three playmakers to stay on the field and defend New Orleans' explosive passing attack, which is led by quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Marques Colston.

Increasing the likelihood of this scenario coming to fruition on Sunday is the fact that rookie cornerback Aqib Talib, who won the nickel job in camp and preseason, has been limited in practice this week due to an illness. The player playing behind Talib on depth chart is Elbert Mack, who is an undrafted rookie.

"Well, he's played pretty good in the preseason," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Piscitelli. "He had some really good plays in training camp on the practice field. He's played pretty well in games. That being said, he is going to be a key contributor on special teams and he might find the field in some situations, but no one talks about the two safeties we have. Those two guys had tremendous camps. We are fortunate that Will Allen played well also. All those guys are going to be relied upon this year, and Sabby will find his way on the field at some point."

Piscitelli, who was Tampa Bay's 2007 second-round draft pick, played in just three regular season games as a rookie before breaking his leg, an injury that landed him on injured reserve.

Although he wasn't sure what his role would be for Sunday's game, Piscitelli said he's itching to get on the field.

"Ever since last year when I had an unfortunate injury it's been tough, but I've been trying to bounce back and get on the field whatever way I can,' said Piscitelli. "I tried to have a strong camp and preseason, and hopefully Coach Kiffin will put me on the field in some situations so I can help the Bucs win somehow.

"I'm going to prepare like I'm playing the whole game, but the coaches haven't really told me a whole lot about my role for this game. Hopefully I can at least sneak onto the field for a few plays. I really want to help this team win."

Piscitelli was devastated by his leg injury last year and how it ended his rookie campaign prematurely. He had another close call in Tampa Bay's preseason finale in Houston when he suffered a knee injury vs. the Texans.

Luckily for Piscitelil, he sustained a mild knee sprain and has been able to practice throughout the week. That's fortunate for the Buccaneers, too, since all signs suggest they plan to use Piscitelli in more ways than one this season.

"It was pretty scary, but it turned out for the best, thank God," said Piscitelli. "It was just a little sprain, but I'll be 100 percent for Sunday, which is all that matters. I'm excited about that."

With the exception of Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur and business/subscriptions manager Kim Roper, the entire Pewter Report staff has picked the New Orleans Saints to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Does Pewter Report want the Buccaneers to lose? No. We wouldn't mind being wrong for the sake of our subscribers, and it wouldn't be the first time we've been wrong, either.

However, an objective look at Tampa Bay's Week 1 contest in New Orleans brings about some serious questions and concerns regarding the Buccaneers offense.

The Bucs offense was without quarterback Jeff Garcia (calf), fullback B.J. Askew (ankle), guard Davin Joseph (foot) and wide receiver Antonio Bryant (knee) for most of training camp and the preseason. Bucs WR Joey Galloway missed all of camp and preseason with a groin injury.

That's a total of five players that missed significant amounts of playing time due to injury, and all of them are starters.

Complicating matters is the fact that Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens will miss the first two games of the season due to a suspension. He was Tampa Bay's most impressive and consistent player at the position in camp and preseason. The injured Bucs are on the mend for the most part. Joseph is the exception, as he'll miss a few more weeks with a broken foot. Rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah will play in his place. That means over half of Tampa Bay's starting offense was – or still is – in disarray heading into the regular season.

It's difficult to picture the Bucs offense, which has been inconsistent under head coach Jon Gruden since his arrival in 2002, gelling and decorating the scoreboard vs. even a suspect Saints defense when taking all of these circumstances into consideration.

However, Askew, who has battled several injuries throughout his career, shed some interesting light on the "rust" factor this week, and fans likely will find it enlightening.

"Veteran guys learn how to be pros," said Askew. "You couldn't possibly know what training camp is going to be like coming out of college or even being a player that is new to a team because each team runs a different camp, so those guys need camp, but the veterans don't necessarily need it. Once you've set your standard you know what you need to do to prepare for the season. As an experienced, veteran guy, you know what to expect and what you need to do with different plays and when facing different defenses. Once you're to that point, the reps you receive in training camp are really just work."

Askew went as far as suggesting Tampa Bay's offense could be better and more productive as a result of the absences of several key members throughout camp and preseason.

"What really happens [when dealing with injured players] is you're dealing with a group of guys that are anxious to hit somebody and play," said Askew. "You get this extra effort from guys that are really excited to play because they had it taken away from them.

"Training camp is the hardest thing in football, no doubt. A lot of people think they can play football, but I challenge them to make it through a training camp. Most guys come out of camp banged up or sore. The guys that miss it are fresher, which can be beneficial. We have guys here that are a lot fresher and moving a lot faster. It's a huge edge, I think."

We'll have to wait until Sunday to determine whether Askew's assessment of the situation as it pertains to Tampa Bay's offense is accurate. The Bucs certainly hope he is.

Don't believe anyone that attempts to suggest the Bucs were trying to stick it to quarterback Chris Simms when they refused to release or trade him during the offseason, training camp and preseason. It's simply not true.

Despite Simms coming out in the media and basically throwing head coach Jon Gruden under the bus with some not-so-kind comments in hopes of being released or traded, the Bucs elected to retain Simms and bring him to camp and the preseason.

Tampa Bay signed Simms to a two-year contract extension at the end of the 2006 season. That was after Simms suffered the splenectomy, but also after he got off to a horrific start (one touchdown, seven interceptions) at the beginning of the 2006 regular season.

The Bucs had a third-round draft pick and $3 million signing bonus invested in Simms. Tampa Bay has absolutely no intention of playing rookie QB Josh Johnson this season, so had Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese or Luke McCown suffered a long-term injury in camp or preseason, Simms likely would have been part of the team's 53-man roster.

Simms, who was well liked within the Bucs organized, probably isn't pleased that he was released on Aug. 30, which is late in the year. It could wind up causing him to sit out of football during the 2008 regular season.

Over the past several months, the Bucs have been criticized for retaining Simms. Some reports have gone as far as suggesting Tampa Bay had turned down trade offers for him on draft weekend, which is inaccurate. Simms was an insurance policy for the Buccaneers, and they had every right to use him for that purpose since they paid him a $2 million base salary in 2007 in addition to his $3 million signing bonus.

The Bucs would have been hard pressed to trade Simms, who finished two straight seasons on injured reserve and has tossed 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in just 15 starts since 2003.

And if one of the Bucs veteran quarterbacks sustains a long-term injury this season and Simms still is available, no one should be surprised if the left-handed signal caller seriously considers playing for the Buccaneers again.

One aspect of Tampa Bay’s recent trade for center/guard Sean Mahan that went unmentioned this week was the fact that he is reunited with center Jeff Faine, whom he played with at Notre Dame.

Mahan spent four seasons with the Bucs before signing with the Steelers in free agency during the 2007 offseason. Needless to say, Mahan was pleased to see at least one familiar face when he re-joined the Bucs earlier in the week.

“Jeff is a great guy and it brings back memories from college – I played right next to him,” Mahan said of Faine. “It is great to have Jeff here. There are a lot of new faces here, but also a lot of guys that were here when I was here.”

Faine and Mahan played alongside each other as starters for two years at Notre Dame, and they became good friends as a result.

“It’s good,” said Faine. “He and I got along well at Notre Dame. We were actually travel roommates, so we are good friends and have a good relationship. It’s going to be great to work with him again.”

Notre Dame had four offensive lineman drafted in 2003, and Faine (first round – Cleveland) and Mahan (fifth round – Tampa Bay) were part of that group.

Five years later, they’re reunited in Tampa Bay, but Mahan most likely won’t play alongside Faine, who is the highest-paid center in the league. Mahan was brought back to help provide depth for the right guard and center positions.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he remembers scouting Faine and Mahan when they were entering the NFL in 2003.

“We watched a lot of film,” Gruden said of Faine and Mahan. “We used to have an offensive line coach hanging around here named Joe Moore, who in my opinion is one of the icons in coaching history, one of the legendary offensive line old school ball coaches ever, so I had a chance being from South Bend to be a fan of Notre Dame and hang out around there. Yeah, I saw those guys playing. They are good friends. They have a long history together and hopefully it works out for them here.”

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