A lot can happen between now and September, but Pewter Report has decided to use this installment of Flynn’s Focus to give fans an idea of which players will be Buccaneers in 2007 with an early 53-man roster prediction.
It’s important to note that 53-man roster spots will ultimately be won and lost in training camp and preseason games. This roster prediction is based more on previous player performances, player status in terms of what the team has invested in them and information we’ve come by regarding how players have been performing this offseason.
Quarterback (3) Jeff Garcia Chris Simms Bruce Gradkowski
Commentary: Although Jake Plummer and the Bucs are still talking, odds are he doesn’t play football in 2007. Garcia and Simms will battle for the starting job. Although he struggled as a rookie starter, Gradkowski is the favorite to edge out Luke McCown for the third-string signal caller job. If Plummer decides to report and play for the Bucs, Simms could be shopped in preseason.
Running Backs (3) Cadillac Williams Michael Pittman Earnest Graham
Commentary: If seventh-round pick Kenneth Darby continues to build on his rookie mini-camp showing, there’s a chance he could earn an active roster spot. Darby has to make an impact on offense and special teams if he is going to join or replace Graham on the 53-man roster. Williams will be the starter while Pittman serves as his backup. Pittman’s role on offense could be increased or reduced, depending on Williams’ ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up blitzes.
Fullbacks (2) Mike Alstott B.J. Askew
Commentary: It might not sit well with some Tampa Bay fans, but Alstott’s role in Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s offense could be more limited this season than ever before. Alstott, 33, isn’t the same running threat he used to be. Some in the Bucs organization believe Askew, who signed with the team earlier this offseason, could seriously challenge the “A-Train” for playing time. Alstott might be called on in short-yardage and goal line situations, but his playing time as a lead blocker could be reduced if Askew proves to be an upgrade in that particular area. This will be an interesting training camp and preseason battle to watch unfold.
Wide Receivers (6) Joey Galloway Michael Clayton Maurice Stovall David Boston Ike Hilliard Paris Warren
Commentary: Although he’s 35, Galloway still is arguably Tampa Bay’s most dangerous offensive weapon. The Bucs must start thinking about life after Galloway, and they are apparently doing just that. Late last season, Gruden was planning to move Stovall, who has been crosstraining at the receiver positions, to the X (split end) receiver spot behind Galloway. While he doesn’t have Galloway’s speed, Stovall’s size and physical style of play are attributes Gruden would like to have at the X. But Stovall’s move is on hold thanks to Boston, who has been showing flashes of his former self this offseason. The Bucs view Boston as a possible successor to Galloway, who might not play beyond this season. In the meantime, Stovall is continuing to crosstrain and is expected to push Clayton and Hilliard for playing time. He might not be the flashiest player on the team, but Hilliard has been clutch on third downs, and Gruden loves him for that. Warren isn’t guaranteed a roster spot and must continue to show progress. Tampa Bay could be tempted to keep WR Chad Owens around if he can solidify the punt and kick return jobs. Mark Jones likely will be the odd man out unless he can prove that he can do more than return punts.
Tight Ends (3) Alex Smith Anthony Becht Jerramy Stevens
Commentary: The Bucs would love nothing more than to come out of training camp and preseason with Smith, Becht and Stevens on their roster. However, this scenario will have a lot to do with whether Stevens can stay out of trouble. The Bucs, who recently signed Stevens to a one-year contract worth league minimum, have nothing to lose by releasing Stevens if he acts up. But the Bucs really don’t have a tight end that can replace Smith’s pass-catching ability should he get injured. Stevens brings that to the table, so needless to say the team is pulling hard for him to make the roster. Becht would like to get more involved in the passing game, but his strength is blocking. Tampa Bay would like to feature less two-tight end sets so it can open things up offensively. That will depend on how well the offensive tackles hold up in pass protection.
Offensive Tackles (4) Luke Petitgout Jeremy Trueblood Chris Denman Anthony Davis
Commentary: As long as they stay healthy, Petitgout and Trueblood will emerge as Tampa Bay’s starting left and right tackle, respectively. Although he will have the opportunity to win the starting left tackle job, Davis figures to have a better chance of earning playing time at left guard. Denman, one of Tampa Bay’s three seventh-round picks, was impressive at the rookie mini-camp. The Bucs believe Denman is versatile enough to play multiple positions along the line, including right tackle, where the Bucs are in need of a capable backup behind Trueblood.
Offensive Guards (2) Arron Sears Davin Joseph
Commentary: The Bucs brought in Matt Lehr as competition for several players on the offensive line. Lehr can play both guard spots and the center position. But Joseph likely will win the right guard job and Sears, a second-round pick, figures to start as a rookie at left guard since Dan Buenning is moving to center. Lehr’s best chance of competing and playing might be at center. Anthony Davis probably won’t start in 2007, but he’ll prove to be a valuable backup at guard and tackle.
Centers (2) Dan Buenning Matt Lehr
Commentary: The battle for the starting center job will be one of the most competitive training camp and preseason battles on the Bucs roster. John Wade is attempting to hold on to his starting job, but the Bucs have moved Buenning to center because they feel he can serve as an upgrade over Wade. Lehr might not be good enough to win a staring job along Tampa Bay’s offensive line, but he’s versatile enough to make the roster, especially at center, where the Bucs could use depth. If Buenning isn’t 100 percent healthy and recovered from season-ending knee injury by the time training camp rolls around, Wade could stick around for another season.
Commentary: Adams was the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t mean he’ll start right away. He must first beat out Rice, who has 121 career sacks, for that job. Rice is coming off of season ending shoulder surgery and is not yet 100 percent healthy, which could bode well for Adams. But the Bucs feel Adams will benefit from learning behind a player with Rice’s pass-rushing skills. Although Spires could start at left end, the Bucs might take him off the field in obvious passing situations in an effort to generate more of a pass rush, which was sorely lacking in 2006. Rice has the ability to play both right and left end, and the team could move him over to the left side to replace Spires and have Adams replace Rice at right end on passing downs. Chukwurah, a former linebacker, could also work his way onto the field in passing situations.
Defensive Tackles (5) Kevin Carter Chris Hovan Greg Peterson Jovan Haye Ryan Sims
Commentary: With Tampa Bay set at defensive end, Carter, who has 97.5 career sacks, likely will start at under tackle for the Buccaneers. Carter is 33, but he’s also durable and versatile enough to play inside or outside on the defensive line. Chris Hovan, who was arguably Tampa Bay’s best defensive player last season, figures to start at nose tackle again this season. If he can continue to draw double teams, the Bucs like Carter’s chances of getting after the quarterback. While he’s a project, Peterson might make the roster by default even if he doesn’t perform well since the team has a fifth-round pick invested in him. Ideally, the Bucs would like to get Peterson on the field in passing situations to give Carter a breather and get after the quarterback. At 285 pounds, Peterson will be hard pressed to get on the field on a full-time basis during his rookie campaign. He must add some size first. The Bucs like Haye, who is versatile enough to play defensive end and defensive tackle in the Tampa 2 scheme. Tampa Bay didn’t really have a capable backup to Hovan until it traded for Sims. A former first-round pick, Sims underachieved with Kansas City, but the Bucs think he can at least earn a backup job as a one technique. By adding more bodies and size to their defensive line, the Bucs are confident that they’ll be able to do a better job of rushing the quarterback and defending the run this season.
Linebackers (7) Derrick Brooks Barrett Ruud Cato June Quincy Black Ryan Nece Jamie Winborn Adam Hayward
Commentary: Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin plans to mold his defense around his personnel this season. While Kiffin earned a name for himself as the brains behind the Tampa 2 defensive scheme, there’s a strong chance Kiffin will help the Bucs defense evolve a bit this season. Tampa Bay is deep and fast at linebacker, which could prompt Kiffin to deploy more 3-4 defensive alignments, just as the Bucs did a bit last season when they were struggling to generate a pass rush with their front four. Shelton Quarles was released earlier in the offseason, and this could be 10-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks’ final season with the Bucs. Tampa Bay is extremely anxious to get some of its young talent on the field. The Bucs plan to play June on the strong side and Brooks probably will emerge as the starting weakside linebacker. Most people assumed Barrett Ruud would take over at middle linebacker for Quarles, but that might not be the case. Black, a third-round pick, really opened some eyes at the rookie mini-camp and could push for playing time or even a starting job. But even if Black starts at middle linebacker, that wouldn’t necessarily mean Ruud would not start on defense. The 3-4 defensive scheme would allow the Bucs to put their four best linebackers on the field at one time, which could include Brooks, Ruud, Black and June. The Bucs like Winborn. In fact, they’re attempting to extend his contract since he is in the final year of his deal. Nece has spent the past two seasons starting at strongside linebacker for Tampa Bay, but he might be in danger of losing his roster spot. If he doesn’t start, Nece must make a significant impact on special teams, which he’s capable of doing. If the Bucs only decide to keep seven linebackers on their roster, they might have to choose between Nece and Hayward, a seventh-round pick. But if Tampa Bay’s defense does indeed plan to feature more use of a 3-4 defense, the Bucs probably will feel justified in keeping seven or eight linebackers on their 53-man roster.
Cornerbacks (5) Ronde Barber Brian Kelly Phillip Buchanon Alan Zemaitis Sammy Davis
Commentary: Despite some rumors that have suggested otherwise, Kelly likely will not be traded this year. Kelly, 31, has two years remaining on his contract, which is he unhappy with. The Bucs aren’t concerned about Kelly’s deal, though. Instead, they want to make sure he’s 100 percent recovered from the toe surgery that ended his 2006 season prematurely. Barber, who made the Pro Bowl last season, and Kelly figure to be Tampa Bay’s starting cornerbacks again this season. The Bucs saw enough from Buchanon last season to re-sign him and release Juran Bolden, who was the team’s nickel cornerback. Buchanon, who signed a two-year deal, likely will take over as Tampa Bay’s nickel corner in 2007. This season will be big for Zemaitis, who was inactive for all 16 regular season contests last season. The Bucs expect to see significant improvement from Zemaitis, a 2006 fourth-round pick, in his sophomore season, and they’re confident the addition of defensive backs coach Raheem Morris will help him max out his full potential. Morris should also help Davis, who is a former first-round draft pick that the Bucs are high on. Torrie Cox figures to be in the mix because of his experience and return ability, but he and seventh-round pick Marcus Hamilton appear to be the odd men out. However, Hamilton could wind up on Tampa Bay’s practice squad.
Safeties (4) Jermaine Phillips Will Allen Sabby Piscitelli Tanard Jackson
Commentary: The Bucs’ secondary could look a lot different in 2007, especially at safety, where Phillips and Allen could be in danger of losing their starting jobs. The Bucs invested a second-round pick in Piscitelli, who will push Phillips for playing time and the starting strong safety spot. Allen could be safe for this season since Jackson, a fourth-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, is making the transition from cornerback to safety. Regardless of how it shakes out, Tampa Bay’s safety position should be deeper and much improved from a year ago.
Kicker (1) Matt Bryant
Commentary: Despite the fact that he made just 77.3 percent of his field goal attempts in 2007, Matt Bryant likely will go through training camp and preseason unchallenged for the kicker job. Of course, Bryant’s record-setting and game-winning 62-yard field goal vs. Philadelphia might have had something to do with the Bucs’ decision not to bring in a veteran kicker to compete with Bryant, who made 84 percent of his field goal tries in 2005.
Punter (1) Josh Bidwell
Commentary: Bidwell will be Tampa Bay’s undisputed punter in 2007, and rightfully so. He made the Pro Bowl in 2005 by averaging 45.6 yards per punt. Although he wasn’t as consistent last season, Bidwell still averaged a respectable 43.5 yards per attempt. He will also continue to hold on Bryant’s field goal attempts.
Long Snapper (1) Adam Economos
Commentary: The Bucs might have a new long snapper this season. Dave Moore, 37, is a free agent and could retire this offseason. Economos is the front runner to handle long-snapping duties for Tampa Bay this season, but if another player on the roster can handle those duties as well as play their other position, the Bucs would have great value in not dedicating one of their 53-man roster spots to a player that can only long snap. If Economos struggles and the Bucs don’t feel they have an alternative on their current roster, they could attempt to lure Moore out of retirement.
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