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Tampa Bay nose tackle Chris Hovan had a good showing against Miami, making two tackles on Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown at the line of scrimmage, making sure that neither back got extra yardage. If not for Hovan’s stops, the Bucs defense would have given up some big runs to the two Dolphins backs. Hovan has had a pretty good preseason and seems entrenched as the Bucs’ nose tackle. He’s solid, but not spectacular.

I’ll bet that rookie middle linebacker Barrett Ruud will battle safety Will Allen to lead the Buccaneers in special teams tackles this year. Ruud has a nose for the ball, and with his playing time likely to be limited as a rookie this season as he is Shelton Quarles’ understudy, he’ll be itching to make a play when he does get on the field. Ruud notched two special teams tackles in the first two weeks and made another tackle against Miami, but that was negated due to penalty. Not only is Ruud excelling on defense, he should also be one of the aces on special teams, too.

Safety Kalvin Pearson was very active around the ball tonight, and has been active in training camp. I’m beginning to wonder if Pearson, who is also a very good player on special teams, wins the backup safety position behind Jermaine Phillips, Dexter Jackson and Will Allen. Rookies Donte Nicholson and Hamza Abdullah have both made plays, but have also had bouts with inconsistent play. The Bucs may take a chance by releasing both rookies and try to sneak one or both on practice squad if they feel they deserve it.

As if their run defense wasn’t a big enough concern, here’s a really sad statistic for the Buccaneers. Through three preseason games this year, Tampa Bay’s starters have yet to notch a sack. The Bucs have not gotten enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks, especially with a four-man rush. Granted, starting under tackle Anthony McFarland has been out the last two games due to his mother’s death, but defensive ends Greg Spires and Simeon Rice are still out on the field. Ellis Wyms has had the last two weeks to make an impression in McFarland’s absence, but has failed to do so. The Bucs hope McFarland comes back ready to cause some havoc and dedicate this season to his mother.

If you didn’t see Saturday night’s game between Tampa Bay and Miami, you’re probably wondering how in the world the Bucs lost to the 0-3 Dolphins, who had the No. 2 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. Well, after witnessing this exhibition game, which was at times painful to watch, I’m wondering how in the world the Dolphins didn’t blow the Bucs out of the water tonight. Miami blew several opportunities for big passing plays that probably would’ve resulted in touchdowns on Saturday night. Safeties Jermaine Phillips, Will Allen and cornerbacks Blue Adams and James Patrick were among the Bucs defenders who were seen trailing the opposition’s receiver on different pass plays deep down the field. The Bucs can thank Dolphins quarterback Gus Frerotte for keeping the score closer than it should have been. Frerotte completed just 9-of-25 (36 percent) passes for 103 yards. Given the fact that Tampa Bay failed to pressure or sack Frerotte on Saturday night, one can see that Miami was only an average signal caller away from lighting up the scoreboard vs. Tampa Bay’s defense. However, the Dolphins did capitalize on blown coverage in the fourth quarter when QB A.J. Feeley hit WR Danny Farmer deep down the right sideline for a touchdown against Bucs CB James Patrick, who was beaten badly on the play. That play and score turned out to be the game-winner for the Dolphins.

All NFL teams are required to trim their rosters down to 65 players by Tuesday afternoon. However, NFL Europe players have roster exemptions, so don’t expect the Bucs to release cornerback Blue Adams, defensive tackle Delbert Cowsette, kicker Todd France, safety Kalvin Pearson, defensive lineman Brian Save, linebacker Josh Buhl, punter Brian Simnjanovski or wide receivers Derek McCoy and Terrance Metcalf, all of whom participated last spring in NFL Europe.

If you’re keeping track of the competition at kicker, Todd France is leading this battle from a make-and-miss standpoint. He’s made 4-of-4 field goal attempts, including the two he drilled on Saturday night against the Miami Dolphins. Matt Bryant has made 3-of-4 tries, and his only miss was from 52 yards out last weekend vs. the Jaguars. While France is perfect in preseason and has been performing well in practice, his kickoffs haven’t been as deep as Bryant’s. This battle looks like it will go down to the wire.

Tampa Bay showed that it has a long way to go in several areas during its 17-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins, who were 0-3 in preseason entering Saturday night’s game vs. the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay will be taking a young offense into the season, and its defense isn’t playing at the level it needs to, especially against the run. The Dolphins carried the ball 26 times for 110 yards (4.2 avg.), and RB Ricky Williams led the charge right off the bat with 10 carries for 59 yards (5.9 avg.) and a score. Tampa Bay was penalized 10 times for 93 yards, and it completed just 3 of 15 (20 percent) of its third down tries vs. Miami. Let’s hope the Bucs have been working out their kinks and showing a vanilla offense in preseason. Otherwise, the Bucs could be heading for another 0-4 regular-season start with contests at Minnesota, vs. Buffalo, at Green Bay and vs. Detroit.

You hate to point fingers at the Bucs coaches, but I feel the offensive staff has made a huge mistake when it comes to personnel. For whatever reason the Pewter Pirates have decided not play a majority of their starters in the second half of any of the tilts in the preseason. I realize that a veteran football player has been through the wars of a 16-game regular season, but you still need to have a frame of reference from a physical standpoint. The memory of this isn’t good enough. You need to have your body actually experience the feeling of going into halftime and getting refocused physically for the third quarter. Now if the plan is for Tampa Bay to play its starters in the second half Thursday against the Houston Texans, I’ll issue an apology. Historically, the last game of the preseason has been a cameo appearance by the starters of one or two series at most. This offensive group is struggling to put points on the board now and in two weeks they will be playing a full four quarters for the first time. The Bucs are setting themselves up to fail.

If wide receiver Ike Hilliard is entrenched as the third wide out you have got to wonder how deep that hole actually happens to be. The former University of Florida Gator dropped a couple of footballs and had questionable effort on a couple more on Saturday night. It’s hard for me to fathom that this kind of performance is the third-best among wide receivers. I would rather see the Bucs go with a young gun out on the flank and live with errors of commission than have to deal with the mistakes of omission by Hilliard.

To say the Bucs got dominated on the opening drive by the Dolphins is an understatement. Not only did Miami hit paydirt on its first offensive possession, but the Dolphins flat out manhandled the Tampa Bay defense. Running back Ricky Williams had 31 rushing yards in five attempts and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that computes to just over five yards a pop. The Bucs defense has to do a much better job of shutting down the opposition offense on the first series of the game. The way the Tampa Bay offense is playing you don’t want to put them in a three-point or seven-point hole right out of the gate.

The biggest battle is still for the kicker spot on the roster. Any area of major concern going into training camp may now be the hardest decision for head coach Jon Gruden and his staff to make. Both Todd France and Matt Bryant has been the picture of consistency in the preseason. Right now I’m giving the edge to Bryant because his kickoffs have been longer and his hang time has been a smidgen longer. This decision should go down to the last game against the Texans at Raymond James Stadium, and France can definitely reverse the thinking of the coaching staff with a great effort in the last preseason contest.

This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on PewterReport. Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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