Copyright 2007

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers report to Celebration Hotel for the start of training camp on July 26.

Pewter Report will be providing Bucs fans, particularly Pewter Insider subscribers, with inside scoop and expert analysis and observations from Tampa Bay’s training camp practices, which will be held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Pewter Report publisher Scott Reynolds, contributing writer Charles Gonzalez and I will be watching practices closely, but here are five things that really pique my interest heading into training camp.

How Will Simms Fare?
Bucs quarterback Chris Simms went from bad to worse during organized team activities and the team’s mandatory mini-camp in late June. Simms has struggled with his form and mechanics since he was allowed to start throwing again in December after a three-month layoff due to the splenectomy he suffered in September. Forget about competing with Jeff Garcia for a starting job – Simms is just trying to make the 53-man roster at this point. Remember – even if he has a miraculous turnaround and returns to form in camp, that still might not be good enough. Simms is, after all, the same quarterback who threw just one touchdown and seven interceptions in Tampa Bay’s first three regular season games in 2006. Here’s to hoping Simms turns it around and gives the Bucs the quality backup signal caller that they will desperately need since it looks like Jake Plummer will elect to hang out in the mountains instead of on the football field in 2007.

Can Tampa Bay’s Offensive Linemen Stay Healthy?
The Bucs’ 2007 season hasn’t even started yet and several members of their offensive line have already spent their fare share of time in the infirmary. Centers John Wade and Dan Buenning spent most of the offseason rehabbing their respective surgically repaired knees. Although they missed a significant amount of playing time during the offseason, both players are expected to take the field and play on July 27, which is when the Bucs will hold their first practice. Rookie guard Arron Sears missed Tampa Bay’s mandatory mini-camp with a knee injury that was deemed “minor” in nature by the Bucs. We’ll see how “minor” it actually was come the start of training camp. Left tackle Luke Petitgout was held out of some action during the offseason, which was a bit curious since he was new to head coach Jon Gruden’s offense. One can only hope that Petitgout’s absence wasn’t a sign of things to come since the 31-year-old lineman had been rumored to have some back problems before he signed with the Bucs. Tampa Bay added some much needed talent and depth to its offensive line during the offseason, but the Bucs offense will not max out if these players can’t stay healthy. It will be interesting to see how they hold up in camp.

Has Tampa Bay’s Defense Truly Evolved?
The Buccaneers toyed with the 3-4 defense a little bit during the 2006 regular season in an effort to put pressure on opposing teams’ quarterbacks. With the addition of defensive line coach/assistant head coach Larry Coyer, Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense showed signs of evolving even more during the offseason when it used a significant amount of the 3-4 alignment. The Bucs want to get their best defensive personnel on the field at one time, but that’s tough to do when only 11 players are allowed on the field at one time. This is indeed a good problem to have for the Bucs, who registered just 26 sacks and ranked 17th overall in total defense in 2006. The Bucs would like to keep their use of the 3-4 defense quiet so that Seattle and New Orleans, who are Tampa Bay’s first two opponents of the regular season, don’t catch wind of it. That said, it will be interesting to see how much 3-4 the Bucs actually use in training camp, which is free and open to the pubic.

A Few New Wrinkles On Offense
While the implementation of the shotgun formation in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense likely will be a popular training camp story, the new trick plays the Bucs ran during the offseason should be just as exciting to watch. Pewter Report isn’t at liberty to share specifics regarding the trickery Gruden unveiled this offseason, but let’s just say there’s a good reason why Florida head coach Urban Meyer visited Bucs’ practice earlier in the offseason, and their championship rings weren’t the only things the two head coaches shared with each other. I seriously doubt Gruden will use these plays during the preseason, but there’s a good chance the Bucs will run them during training camp since opposing teams’ scouts aren’t allowed to attend other teams’ practices. Gruden has implemented some trick plays that never came to fruition during the regular season in years past, but the Bucs ran the trick plays we saw earlier this offseason enough to make me believe there’s a strong chance they will be used during the 2007 regular season.

More Work For The Veterans?
This time last year Tampa Bay was coming off of an 11-5 and NFC South championship season. That might help explain why Bucs head coach Jon Gruden decided to rest his veterans and starters, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, so much during training camp and preseason in 2006. Gruden has a lot of regrets from Tampa Bay’s 4-12 season in 2006, and one of them was his decision to rest some of the veteran players as much as he did, including quarterback Chris Simms. Despite entering last year’s training camp as a first-year starter, Simms received a limited amount of work during the preseason. That came back to bite the Bucs, evidenced by Simms’ horrific start. As a result, Tampa Bay’s offense failed to score a touchdown until its third regular season game. Pewter Report is working on getting more details in terms of how Gruden plans to distribute playing time amongst his players this year, but we expect to see the starters and veterans on the field a little more in training camp and preseason compared to last year.

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