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Publisher Scott Reynolds "Despite several overthrows, including two potential touchdowns, Byron Leftwich will likely be named the starting quarterback over Luke McCown, who looked shaky on Thursday night against the Dolphins, taking two sacks and getting flagged for an intentional grounding penalty – not to mention starting off 0-for-4 and completing 45.5 percent of his passes. McCown's best shot at claiming the starting job was his overthrown touchdown pass to wide receiver Kelly Campbell in the third quarter. Campbell had a step on the Miami defender, but McCown threw off his back foot and the pass was literally inches away from being caught. Campbell couldn't lay out for the pass because he strained his ailing quadriceps on the play. One has to think that if McCown completes that pass and finishes the preseason with three touchdown passes and no picks compared to Leftwich's one touchdown pass and no picks that he would become the starter. McCown's 86.6 QB rating would have swelled to 105.8 with that 29-yard scoring strike. Leftwich certainly could have bolstered his stats had he not overthrown potential touchdown passes to Brian Clark and Kellen Winslow."
"The Buccaneers' youth movement continues into the regular season. Although no firm commitments have been made, don't be surprised if the Bucs go very green with their reserve offensive linemen. Instead of keeping James Lee and Anthony Alabi, who have at least some NFL experience – albeit not much – Xavier Fulton, the team's fifth-round draft pick, and fellow rookie Demar Dotson are front-runners to win roster spots. Tampa Bay loves the upside of both players. Fulton has performed quite well during the preseason, seeing significant action in both of the team's first two games, although he did get called for a holding penalty last week and gave up a sack against Miami. Dotson, a former Southern Miss basketball player with only one year's worth of football experience – ever – has great promise and upside with a 6-foot-9, 315-pound frame. Should he make the roster, as Pewter Report surmises he might, that would be an incredible feat for a guy who has never taken a snap as an offensive lineman in a game prior to this August. Dotson played defensive tackle last year in his lone season playing football at Southern Miss."
"The Bucs are somewhat divided over the plan to end the experiment of Jermaine Phillips moving to linebacker due to Tanard Jackson's suspension. In this reporter's opinion, Geno Hayes out-played Phillips in training camp and the preseason and Hayes getting the start at weakside linebacker is poetic justice. Hayes played well against the Dolphins, registering four tackles on defense and three tackles on special teams. The Bucs will have four weeks to evaluate how well Hayes plays at Will linebacker while Phillips teams with Will Allen at safety until Jackson returns from his suspension. Should Hayes play good football, Phillips may be relegated to being a backup upon Jackson's return. That's not necessarily a bad thing as the Bucs' future lies in younger players like Hayes and Jackson and not the 30-year Phillips, who is playing on a one-year deal."
"Don't be surprised if rookie cornerback E.J. Biggers makes the Bucs' 53-man roster and the team keeps five cornerbacks. Biggers, one of Tampa Bay's two seventh-round picks this year, played exceptionally well during the first two preseason games. His coverage was so tight that he didn't even have a pass thrown his way, which is the ultimate sign of respect. He did struggle against Miami, missing a sideline tackle against Greg Camarillo, which he took 52 yards, but Biggers did record a sack in addition to two tackles. Expect the Bucs to feature Biggers early and often in the fourth preseason game next Friday against Houston to see what he's really made of going against first-team and second-team players rather than just second- and third-string receivers."
"The Bucs announced paid attendance for Thursday night's game was over 63,000. That's a joke. There was probably half that amount in attendance. Rain likely kept a sizeable amount of ticket holders away from Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night, coupled with the fact that the preseason game was nationally televised. But it's clear that the Bucs are far from sold out and it seems like the team will have some blackout games this year. The reason? There were an awful lot of Miami fans in attendance sitting in the 100 and 200 level at Ray-Jay. The Bucs only hope to avoid blackouts may be the drove of New York fans that will travel to see the Giants and Jets play in Tampa Bay, in addition to the Cheeseheads that will come support the Packers. Expect close to a 50-50 house for those games as the atmosphere may resemble the games at the Old Sombrero where Tampa Bay didn't have much of a homefield advantage, especially when Green Bay and Chicago came to town back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Ah, the bad old days may be coming back again."
"Defensive end Louis Holmes is really catching the Bucs' eyes. He leads the team with three sacks and a forced fumble and may not be easy for Tampa Bay to stash on the practice squad. If Holmes continues to pressure the quarterback next week against Houston, the Bucs will have a tough decision to make. Should they risk trying to place a gifted, young pass rusher on the practice squad or keep the productive player on their roster – even though they may not have the room along the defensive line? If Holmes records his fourth sack of the preseason against the Texans, how could Tampa Bay justify letting him go?"
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn "Talk about a letdown. That's one good way to describe the showdown between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown for the starting quarterback job on Thursday night. With that job on the line, both quarterbacks underwhelmed, going a combined 14-of-28 (50 percent) for 139 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Miami's 3-4 defense presented some problems for Tampa Bay's offensive line and quarterbacks, which resulted in three sacks and an intentional grounding penalty between the two signal callers. Leftwich led two drives that resulted in field goals, which probably will be enough for him to beat out McCown for the starting job, but may not be enough for the team to win many games with No. 7 behind center."
"One positive regarding Tampa Bay's quarterback position, which has been a disappointment thus far, is the fact that the Bucs signal callers have thrown just one interception on 112 pass attempts through three exhibition games. The bad news is Tampa Bay's four QBs have completed 56-of-112 (50 percent) of their passes in preseason."
"Tampa Bay's offensive line is a work in progress in terms of learning Jeff Jagodzinski's zone blocking scheme, but the fact that this group was considered one of the strongest on the team heading into training camp is worrisome based on preseason play, especially on Thursday night. Bucs starting offensive linemen Jeremy Trueblood and Davin Joseph combined for four penalties, not to mention the quarterbacks were sacked four times. This was the first time this year that Tampa Bay's offensive line saw the 3-4 defense, but it won't be the last. The Bucs will see it the 3-4 again when they host the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 of the regular season, as well as games against New England (Oct. 25), Green Bay (Nov. 8), Miami (Nov. 15) and the New York Jets (Dec. 13)."
"Bucs head coach Raheem Morris wants his team to play mentally tough. Well, that didn't happen Thursday night, evidenced by the Bucs being penalized 13 times vs. the Dolphins. Tampa Bay lost to Miami, 10-6, and what Morris said after the game is true – the Bucs will be hard pressed to win any games this year if they are penalized that many times. The hope is that this penalty-filled contest is the exception, not the norm for the Bucs."
"It would have been interesting to see how the kicking competition would have unfolded had Matt Bryant stayed healthy and participated in preseason. Bucs K Mike Nugent is 3-of-6 (50 percent) on field goal tries through three games. Statistically, that's nothing to brag about. However, it's important to note that two of Nugent's three misses have been from 50 or more yards away. Nugent has plenty of leg on kickoffs, and he's been accurate in camp. The Bucs should be fine with the former second-round pick handling kicking duties this season."
"If you're looking for a positive from Thursday night's nationally televised Bucs game, you can find one in Tampa Bay's injury report, which included just one injury, according to Raheem Morris – an ankle ailment sustained by backup linebacker Adam Hayward. That's not bad considering the fact that most of the starters played for the better part of three quarters."
Beat Writer Charlie Campbell "The depth at wide receiver looked a little better after the performance by Maurice Stovall on Thursday night, but it is clearly a weak unit on the team. Stovall led the Bucs with six catches for 73 yards. No other receiver had more than two catches. Tampa Bay has been without starting receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton for the majority of the preseason, and in that time they have been looking for some of the backups to step up. Seventh-round pick Sammie Stroughter looks like the third best receiver on the team behind the starters. After the rookie, Stovall and Brian Clark have had some good moments in the preseason. However, there is a clear drop off from the starting receivers to these three. During 2008, the depth at wide receiver was an issue for the team. If Bryant didn't produce no receiver did. The Bucs retained their starters, but in the offseason all Tampa Bay did to strengthen the receiving corps was select Stroughter late in the draft after cutting veterans Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard. A weakness of 2008 appears to be so again in 2009. The Bucs wanted to give their young players like Stovall, Clark, and Dexter Jackson an opportunity to get on the field. Yet the decision not to give them more talented competition could come back to bite Tampa Bay if Bryant and Clayton get injured during the regular season. Considering how little those two have been able to go in the preseason, the Bucs have to be concerned."
"In a critical game for the Buccaneers to decide on a starting quarterback the Tampa Bay offensive line failed McCown. Dolphins defensive linemen and linebackers were constantly pressuring the veteran quarterback. The first play that McCown dropped back to pass he tossed a perfect ball into tight end Jerramy Stevens while taking a massive shot from a defender coming free. Stevens bobbled the pass for an incompletion. That play set the tone for McCown's evening. He was pressured three other plays and sacked twice. One of the pressure's resulted in an intentional grounding penalty on McCown as he was trying to get rid of the ball to avoid a sack, but failed to get the ball back to the line of scrimmage. McCown also had a 10-yard run called back by a holding penalty on guard Davin Joseph. In one of the most important games in McCown's career his offensive line failed him. The consistent pass rush that McCown faced denied him of an opportunity to complete passes downfield. If Leftwich is named the starting quarterback, the failures of the Tampa Bay offensive line will have contributed greatly to McCown not having an equal opportunity to compete for the job in the Miami preseason game. Leftwich received six more pass attempts than McCown, 17 versus 11, and had drastically better pass protection. Other factors hurt McCown like the rain starting up when he entered the game, and some mistakes by his receivers. While there were a number of things that caused McCown to have an underwhelming night against the Dolphins, the failures by the offensive line were the biggest drawback to McCown laying claim to the starting quarterback position."
"The running game was a strength of the Bucs offensive for the third straight preseason game. Against Tennessee the Bucs had 138 yards rushing, and followed that with 159 yards in Jacksonville. Against the Dolphins, Tampa Bay racked up 127 yards on the ground on 26 carries averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The solid ground game allowed the Bucs win the time of possession 34:13 to 25.47. It could have been an even bigger night if the passing attack had done enough to maintain drives. and convert third downs. Both Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams and Earnest Graham ripped off big runs. Williams led the team with eight carries for 54 yards, and Graham contributed five carries for 39 yards. The later had a long carry of 27 yards, and Williams sprung loose for 19 yards to help set up the first field goal of the night. Running back Derrick Ward did not get as much work Thursday night with four carries for three yards. Considering the consistent struggles in the Buccaneers quarterback play throughout training camp and the preseason, having the ground game step up and give the offense some production will be massively important in keeping the Buccaneers in games. Tampa Bay has a number of positions that appear to be lacking depth. Running back is not one of them. With the failures in the passing offense and the injuries that can beset the position, it is likely that all of the running backs will get plenty of carries in 2009."
"On the other side of the ball, the Bucs proved to be stout defending the run for the third straight week. The tackling from the defense this preseason has been exemplary. The credit for that should be spread all around, but the physical padded training camp has to be at the top of the list. Morris and the coaching staff got the defense ready to hit and wrap up. There have been an occasional missed tackle, but that will happen in every game even for the best defenses. A team is doing well if the missed tackles are under 10. The first impression from the Dolphins game is that the Buccaneers accomplished that feat for the third straight week. Miami totaled 79 yards rushing in the game and averaged only 3.2 yards per rush. Their longest carry of the night went for only eight yards. Jacksonville and Tennessee both feature good running backs, and in recent seasons have featured strong power running games. The Jaguars could only muster 61 yards on the ground last week, and the Titans had 92 yards against Tampa Bay. Last season Miami had a good running game led by Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. That duo combined for only 30 yards on nine carries versus the Bucs. It is clear that the front seven deserve a lot of praise for their run defense this preseason. They have rarely needed safety help, and the plan to have the defensive tackles take on blockers to free up linebackers has worked well up to this point. Considering the way last season ended with terrible run defense in the final month of the year, the Bucs deserve credit for turning that around in the heading into 2009 season."