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Publisher Scott Reynolds
“New Tampa Bay punter Dirk Johnson overcame a shaky first punt of 39 yards to have a solid debut in red and pewter. After hitting his initial punt a little short, Johnson drilled a 46-yarder to the Tennessee 9 and forced Titans return man Ryan Mouton to fair catch the ball. That was one of two punts Johnson downed inside Tennessee’s 20-yard line, while not having any touchbacks. Johnson finished the game with a 41.4-yard average and a 39-yard net average on his five punts. He also did a solid job holding for kicker Mike Nugent, who was 1-of-2 on his field goals from the 50- and 51-yard line. So far so good for the player that could be Josh Bidwell’s replacement in 2009 if Bidwell can’t overcome severe pain in the hip of his kicking leg.”

“I was really impressed with the play of Tampa Bay’s defensive tackles tonight in the first half. The Bucs denied every run inside and held the Titans’ potent ground game to just 12 yards on 12 carries and the defensive tackles were a big reason why. However, a quick look at the stats sheet would suggest otherwise. You won’t see any tackles for starters Chris Hovan or Ryan Sims, nor will you see any for Dre Moore, but all three played incredibly well by clogging the middle and forcing the running backs outside where linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks were waiting to make the tackle. I was particularly impressed with Moore’s high motor against the Titans. He did a remarkable job of shedding the guards – just like defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn taught him in practice. On one play, Moore shed a guard and caused disruption in the backfield, which forced Chris Johnson right into the arms of rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller, who was credited with two tackles. On other play, Moore collapsed the pocket by pushing guard Jake Scott into quarterback Kerry Collins. That flushed Collins to his left and into the pursuit path of defensive end Stylez G. White, who recorded a 10-yard sack to set up third-and-20. The second-team defensive tackle duo of Moore and Miller was awfully effective against Tennessee, especially in the second quarter. The Bucs have to be pleased with both young, promising defensive tackles.”

“Byron Leftwich led two scoring drives and deserves to be ahead of Luke McCown in Tampa Bay’s quarterback derby after McCown had a rather lifeless performance in Tennessee. I felt like McCown was operating in Jon Gruden’s offense with several dink-and-dunk passes, while Leftwich was operating in Jeff Jagodzinski’s offense, which asks the quarterback to push the ball down the field and engage in a vertical passing attack. Yet, I was not impressed with Leftwich after Saturday night. First of all, he completed just 42.8 percent of his passes (6-of-14) for 61 yards. A completion percentage like that won’t win many games in the NFL. Second, his touchdown pass was thrown behind Brian Clark and Clark made a great adjustment to the pass to haul it in. On Leftwich’s first pass, he came dangerously close to getting sacked and throwing an interception. When he did take a sack, it was a stupid 17-yarder from Leftwich running backwards that a veteran QB should never take. Leftwich also failed in short yardage situations, throwing the ball way too hard and outside for his receivers to haul in. Leftwich was unable to stroke a few completions on a third-and-3 situation at the Tennessee 45 and a third-and-2 situation at the Tampa Bay 26 in the second quarter. If not for an unnecessary roughness penalty on defensive tackle Keith Vickerson near the end of the first half, Leftwich would have failed on another third-and-2, this time at the Tampa Bay 36 as his pass to Cortez Hankton was incomplete. Still, despite the flaws in Leftwich’s game, he did out-perform McCown, which is quite damning for Saturday night’s starter.”

“Aside from Brian Clark and rookie Sammie Stroughter, the Bucs wide receivers were largely unimpressive on Saturday night. Stroughter led the team with three catches for 42 yards, while Clark had two catches for 29 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown. But Maurice Stovall was a huge disappointment, catching only one of the five passes that were intended for him for just eight yards. A few of those throws were hard and high, but Stovall legitimately dropped a couple. Cortez Hankton had two drops on the only passes thrown his way and newcomer Mario Urrutia, who had created a buzz in training camp, could not haul in any of the three passes thrown his way, and got flagged for a 15-yard offensive facemask penalty.”

Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
"Tampa Bay had a difficult time running the football versus Tennessee on Saturday night, but it wasn't due to a lack of effort. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski dialed up plenty of running plays, but the Titans defense dominated the play in the trenches, which has to be disappointing to Bucs head coach Raheem Morris since he is attempting to build a more physical football team. With a group that includes Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward, Clifton Smith and Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay's stable of running backs should be the strength of the team. But in the team's preseason debut, the running game, which was without Williams tonight, looked awful in the first half. Graham carried the ball four times for just one yard while Ward rushed the ball four times for nine yards. To make matters worse, Graham had a costly fumble in the passing game that led to a field goal for the Titans. Tampa Bay's inability to run the football effectively severely hindered Jagodzinski's offense. The offense was stuck in third-and-long situations way too often, which limited the amount times quarterback Luke McCown could play-action pass deep downfield. Granted, the Bucs were without starting center Jeff Faine and saw starting right guard Davin Joseph take just a few snaps before leaving the game, but the offensive line really struggled to hold off blockers for most of the first half, which was quite surprising since both the running backs and offensive line were considered strengths of the team heading into tonight's game."

"As poorly as things were for the Bucs running game in the early part of the contest, the ground game heated up as the exhibition contest progressed. Bucs' newcomer Kareem Huggins played a big role in that success. He led the team in rushing with nine carries for 43 yards (4.7 avg.). Huggins ran extremely hard, never stopped moving his feet and proved to be shifty and quick to the hole on his 19-yard scamper on a run up the middle in the third quarter. Huggins, who also finished the game with three catches for 14 yards, had a few positive plays on Tampa Bay's final drive of the first half, which led to a 51-yard field goal. While he was impressive, Huggins wasn't perfect, evidenced by his one dropped pass and a fumble that was recovered by tackle James Lee in the fourth quarter. However, Huggins and Clifton Smith, who had five carries for 27 yards (5.4 avg.), were two positives in a running game that struggled mightily in the first half."

"Former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was a genius on so many different levels. His consistency in terms of producing top 10 defenses with the "Tampa 2' system speaks for itself, but one thing Kiffin struggled to do was dial up effective blitzes. With the exception of cornerback Ronde Barber blitzing from the slot, an art he has essentially perfected, Kiffin really struggled with calling blitzes in games when the defensive front four was struggling to put pressure on the quarterback. Well, the good news is new defensive coordinator Jim Bates appears to be much better when it comes to designing blitzes. The Bucs defense blitzed the Titans quarterbacks several times on Saturday night, and they were actually quite good. In fact, backup middle linebacker Rod Wilson sacked Titans QB Vince Young on a blitz up the middle late in the second quarter to end a drive and force a field goal, which made the score 9-6 in favor of the Bucs. Bates obviously has a creative defensive mind, but he's also got players with key attributes to blitz effectively. Tampa Bay's defense, particularly the linebackers, showcased athleticism and speed against the Titans, so expect more blitzing from the Bucs defense as the season goes on."

"One thing that stood out to this Pewter Reporter during Saturday night's game was how sharp Tampa Bay's tackling was from a defensive standpoint. The Bucs defensive players, particularly the ones that played in the first half of the game, made more open field tackles than one could count, especially in the flats. I'm sure this was refreshing to the fans that suffered through watching Tampa Bay's December collapse, which involved a ton of missed tackles by the defensive personnel. It was easy to see that Tampa Bay's defense is much younger and quicker, and probably has benefited from practicing in full pads and doing some live drills during training camp. The players also made some nice hits and brought a physical style of play to the field that hasn't been seen in Tampa Bay in quite some time. While it was greatly improved, and at times very impressive, the Bucs' tackling wasn't perfect, evidenced by linebacker Adam Hayward's missed tackle on running back Jovan Ringer in the backfield that led to the rookie's 36-yard touchdown run in the second half. Not perfect, but the Bucs' tackling is definitely something to build on and feel pretty good about."

Beat Writer Charlie Campbell
"Quarterback Luke McCown is a six-year pro and had one of the biggest starts of his career in the Bucs first preseason game of 2009. It was the first start of his career where McCown was fighting for a starting quarterback position. While it was only a preseason game, it was a huge night for McCown. Yet the veteran quarterback did not have an impressive evening. His first possession started out with McCown not being on the same page as wide receiver Maurice Stovall. McCown threw a hitch and Stovall ran a nine route. The receivers didn't help McCown as wideout Cortez Hankton dropped McCown's next pass. While McCown had a couple of nice runs and picked up a first down, he never got into a rhythm through the air. For the night, McCown had an underwhelming four completions on eight attempts for 19 yards. His two runs went for 13 yards including a first down of four yards on second-and-2. That kind of play, and the 9-yard carry on a first-and-10, is his real advantage over Byron Leftwich. McCown had a terrible play overturned due to a facemask penalty. He was in the process of getting sacked by Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown and tried to pass the ball, but it came loose as a fumble. Titans defensive end William Hayes scooped up the ball and ran into the end zone for an apparant touchdown. It was the kind of mistake that McCown has made in the past in some appearances with the Bucs. Fortunately for him, the officials called Brown's obvious facemask. The unassuming performance from McCown makes next's preseason game perhaps the most important game of his career. Head coach Raheem Morris wants to name a starter entering the third preseason game. If McCown repeats Saturday night's start against the Titans it is unlikely it will be him. Leftwich was not overwhelming either, and Morris may have to change the plan and use the third preseason game to evaluate his quarterbacks to choose who becomes the starter if they repeat the game they played in Tennessee."

"Obviously with the Buccaneers quarterbacks having a disappointing game it is going to lead to the passing offense having a bad night. However, it was not just the fault of the quarterbacks. The wide receivers did not have a great night catching the ball. A number of catchable passes fell incomplete, and they were not gaining significant separation from the Titans defensive backs. Rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter and veteran Brian Clark flashed with on a few plays, but overall, the Bucs did not prove to have good receiver depth behind injured starters Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton. The backup offensive line did not help the quarterbacks either. Leftwich was under a good amount of pressure, and the Bucs took three sacks for a loss of 29 yards. The Bucs had only 18 completions on 36 attempts for 147 yards. The net yards with the sacks included reduced it to 118 yards. Including the sacks, the average gain per passing play was only three yards. As an offense Tampa Bay has a lot of room for improvement."

"The defensive line's ability to rush the passer was a big question mark for the Bucs entering this season. Outside of defensive end Stylez G. White's sack, the Buccaneers defensive linemen were unable to amount anything of a pass rush. White's sack of Titans starter Kerry Collins was a coverage sack as the Bucs secondary did a great job of blanketing all the receivers. White obviously had a great game with his instinctive interception, the sack, and a nice pressure on Titans quarterback Vince Young coming from right end during the Titans two-minute drive to close out the first half. None of the starting defensive linemen (right end Gaines Adams, defensive tackle Ryan Sims, defensive tackle Chris Hovan, and left end Jimmy Wilkerson) sniffed any pressure on the Titans quarterback. White was the only backup linemen to get much of a pass rush as well. Bucs linebacker Rod Wilson was credited for a sack on a blitz up the middle. The play was easy for the Bucs defense as the shotgun snap to Young was short of the quarterback, and he had his momentum going towards the defense due to fielding the snap. Wilson got the initial hit on Young with linebacker Geno Hayes and defensive lineman Kyle Moore getting in on the tackle.  If the Bucs are going to have an effective defense in 2009 the defensive line is going to have to generate a pass rush. The scheme of defensive coordinator Jim Bates was supposed to elevate the play of Adams in particular. The defensive ends are split out wider, and are in theory in position to get more pass rush. The first game against the Titans showed little to no progress for the Bucs' pass rush from the defensive linemen."

"The Buccaneers offensive players and coaching staff had some struggles in training camp with getting a play called, lined up correctly, making pre-snap adjustments, and snapping the ball before the play clock expired. Tampa Bay had no issues with that in the game, and did not have any significant penalties that directly led to the team dropping their preseason opener. The overall team discipline was impressive for a new coaching staff, and a lot of young football players."

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