Pewter Report editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds:
“In talking with several of the Bucs veterans after the game, winning this game was very important because it was a home game. After finishing the 2003 season with a dreadful and embarrassing 3-5 mark at Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs finished their preseason home schedule with a 2-0 mark. Ronde Barber told me that Jon Gruden and the coaches have constantly stressed the importance of maintaining homefield advantage, and going 2-0 at RJS was a big step in the right direction for the club heading into the regular season.”

“It was nice to see the Bucs finally establish a running game in the preseason. Tampa Bay rushed for 108 yards on 28 carries (3.9 avg.). Reserve Earnest Graham led the way with 52 yards on 11 carries (4.7 avg.) and had a two-yard touchdown run and a 36-yard, tackle-breaking scamper in the fourth quarter. But the real positive came in the first quarter with three of Tampa Bay’s lead backs – Charlie Garner, Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott. Garner and Pittman averaged five yards per carry and each had a run over 10 yards, while Alstott averaged 6.3 yards per carry with an 11-yard jaunt. If there was a disappointment in the running game, it would be the indecisiveness of Jamel White, who finished with minus-5 yards on four carries. However, White did make up for it in the passing game with two great catches for 51 yards.”

“It appears as if Frank Murphy and Mark Jones may win roster spots due to their special teams play. Both are prominent players on all phases of the Bucs’ coverage and return units. Jones has handled all of the punt return duties this preseason for Tampa Bay, averaging 7.3 yards on nine returns, and Murphy has fielded half of the team’s kick returns and has a team-high 26.5-yard average. The biggest thing about Murphy’s four kick returns is that he has been amazingly consistent with runbacks of 36, 27, 25 and 27 yards. The fact that Brandon Bennett did not play tonight due to a leg injury may cost him a roster spot, especially with the emergence of a big back like the versatile Earnest Graham, who Jon Gruden really likes.”

“A quick look at the inactive list tonight is a good indication of which Bucs will be released in the first series of cutdowns. Cornerback Lynaris Elpheage was inactive and receiver D’Wayne Bates, tight end Nate Lawrie, offensive lineman Scott Jackson, and defensive end Lamar King did not play against the Dolphins. These players are as good as gone. Wide receiver Charles Lee also did not play and has missed a significant amount of time in the preseason with a hamstring injury. With Bill Schroeder playing well on offense, and Frank Murphy and Mark Jones excelling on special teams, Lee, who expects to play in the preseason finale, could easily be cut.”

Pewter Report senior writer Leo Haggerty
“At some point, the failures of the usually reliable Martin Gramatica will have to become a major concern for the Bucs. Not only did Gramatica misfire wide right on the Buccaneers’ opening drive from 43 yards out, but he also failed to ice the game late in the fourth quarter with a 44-yarder that came up short. Both were well within the range of a professional kicker. It looks like it’s more of a confidence matter than a physical problem, but the former Pro Bowler needs to break out of his slump in a hurry.”

“Also, linebacker Ryan Nece made a strong case to retain a roster spot along with running back Earnest Graham. It also looks like Chris Simms has locked up the backup signal caller role. Nece had the interception that gave the Bucs the lead that they would protect for the last half of the fourth quarter, and Graham has led the Pewter Pirates this preseason in scoring touchdowns with three trips to the end zone. Simms, who is in a battle with Brian Griese for the No. 2 QB spot, completed 11-of-13 aerials for 145 yards and finished the Dolphins game with a quarterback rating of 113.1.”

Finally, the jury is still out as to how good this Bucs team is because the Dolphins are a team definitely heading south. Without running back Ricky Williams, the Fins could only muster 39 yards in 21 carries for a meager 1.9 yards per carry average. With wide receiver David Boston on the shelf for the 2004 campaign, the offense in Miami is mediocre at best and it showed tonight at Raymond James Stadium. Was the Bucs defense dominant in holding Miami to just 10 points and 209 yards, or are the Dolphins just really bad?”

Pewter Report managing editor Jim Flynn:
“Not that he necessarily needed to have a big game to make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster, but Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece practically guaranteed his spot on this team by having a big game, notching a team-high seven tackles, two of which took place during the Bucs’ impressive goal line stand, and he won the game for the Pewter Pirates by picking off Dolphins quarterback Sage Rosenfels midway through the fourth quarter and returning the ball 56 yards for a touchdown. Nece, who won the starting strongside linebacker job last season by making more plays than Dwayne Rudd in training camp and preseason, won’t beat out Ian Gold for the starting spot this season, but the Bucs have to feel good about having a capable backup with play-making ability in Nece.”

“Some members of the media were premature in praising kicker Martin Gramatica after he made 2-of-3 field goal attempts against the Cincinnati Bengals in Tampa Bay’s preseason opener. After missing two of three field goal attempts (both were in the 40-yard range, and one barely made it to the end zone) against Miami, Gramatica is now 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) on field goal attempts in the preseason. That’s not good when considering the fact that Gramatica is coming of a dismal season where he made 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) field goal attempts. This is not what the Bucs had in mind when they decided to ‘rest’ Gramatica’s leg by adding K Nicholas Setta to handle kickoffs. I know Tampa Bay has a competent coaching and training staff, but is anybody else starting to wonder if Gramatica should be kicking more instead of less during the offseason, training camp and preseason?”

“You can’t help but be impressed by the way second-year quarterback Chris Simms responded to some criticism from Bucs head coach Jon Gruden this week. Simms was outstanding against the Dolphins, completing 11-of-13 passes for 145 yards and leading an impressive 76-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. He was 4-of-4 on that drive and made some deadly-accurate deep throws to running back Jamel White and wide receiver Michael Clayton. Simms has clearly won the backup job behind starting QB Brad Johnson and all signs suggest he is going to be a really good — or possibly great — quarterback in this league and for the Bucs.”

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