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Publisher Scott Reynolds
“It’s disappointing to report, but despite a heavy focus on the fact that Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms led the league with batted balls percentage last year, it appears as if the lefty has not made much progress at all in this area. Despite practicing with a dummy made of PVC piping at the line of scrimmage in training camp, Simms still had three of his passes batted down at the line of scrimmage in the first half of the Jacksonville game. Part of that is due to the amount of three-step drops Jon Gruden’s offense calls for, but why don’t other team’s quarterbacks who run the West Coast offense have as many balls batted down as Simms does? It would be understandable if he was 6-foot-1 like Bruce Gradkowski, but Simms is 6-foot-4. Brian Griese never had as many passes deflected at the line of scrimmage, either. Simms also had a pass batted at the line last week against Miami, but was savvy enough to jump up and knock down the deflected pigskin. Like any quarterback, Simms will throw his share of interceptions this season, but unfortunately, he will have one or two passes picked off at the line of scrimmage due to batted balls. Simms is partly to blame, but the offensive linemen must also be more aggressive in pass protection and make the defensive linemen pay for leaving their feet or putting their arms up in the air with a shot to the ribs or midsection.”

“Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line deserves some criticism for its play against Jacksonville. The starting O-line surrendered three sacks, committed two penalties (a false start on Anthony Davis and holding on Davin Joseph, which was declined after he gave up a sack on the play) and contributed in having three of Chris Simms’ passes deflected at the line of scrimmage. But it wasn’t the pass protection that was the most disappointing aspect of the line play as Simms contributed to having the passes batted down and held on to the ball too long on at least one sack. Instead, it was the fact that the Bucs’ running backs netted only nine yards rushing in the first half. Tampa Bay’s offensive line didn’t get any push off the line of scrimmage against a big, stout Jacksonville defensive line. It could be tough sledding for Tampa Bay’s ground game in Week 1 against Baltimore’s tough defense. Was it me or did Cadillac Williams looks to skittish running the ball against Jacksonville?”

“You have to love the play of Bucs reserve safety Kalvin Pearson. That guy is an absolute headhunter. Pearson lacks the coverage ability to develop into a starter, but the guy flat out smacks people in the running game. On Jacksonville’s first possession of the second half, Pearson delivered two huge hits on running back LaBrandon Toefield. The hits were so hard that Pearson’s helmet flew off both times. Pearson, who has earned a reputation as one of Tampa Bay’s top special teamers, is the team’s biggest hitter and fun to watch. He’ll force a fumble or two on special teams this year.”

“Bruce Gradkowski’s star came crashing down to Earth tonight with two interceptions and a fumble. The same could be said for reserve middle linebacker Barrett Ruud to a degree. Ruud can freight-trained at least twice by Jaguars running backs while starting middle linebacker Shelton Quarles was solid against the run and forced a fumble while sacking quarterback Byron Leftwich. Quarles showed once again why he is the starting middle linebacker – not Ruud. Ruud will be a very good replacement for Quarles eventually, but all the calls from fans who want Ruud to start in place of Quarles this year are a year or two premature.”

“Cornerback Torrie Cox may be the comeback player of the year for the Buccaneers. After falling to fifth on the depth chart at cornerback and having his kick return duties stripped early in the season, it seemed as if Cox was playing his way off the Bucs roster – especially after two alleged DUI arrests within the span of a year. However, Cox turned in yet another solid preseason performance with a great pass breakup on a long ball intended for 6-foot-6 receiver Matt Jones. In addition to making a couple of special teams stops against Jacksonville, Cox added a nice 49-yard kick return to start the second half. It’s clear that his confidence is back and he’s playing with a swagger again. Expect Cox – not rookie Alan Zemaitis – to be the team’s nickel cornerback should Juran Bolden’s deep thigh bruise keep him out of extended action in the coming weeks.”

“Let’s hope that Booger McFarland keeps up the pass rush production. McFarland has recorded sacks in back-to-back games and needs to continue this trend once the regular season starts. Backup Ellis Wyms is also adding a nice pass rush from the defensive tackle position, and contributed a sack tonight – as did right defensive end Simeon Rice. Kudos to new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin for getting his players ready to play against Jacksonville.”

Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
“On a night when most people were expecting to see Tampa Bay’s starting offense step up and make some plays, its defense, which ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL last season, stole the show in this nationally televised game. Tampa Bay’s defense managed to sustain a potent pass rush against a solid Jacksonville offensive line by sacking Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich four times. Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles got this unit off to a great start on Jacksonville’s first offensive series when he drilled Leftwich on a scramble and forced the signal caller to fumble, which allowed LB Derrick Brooks to recover the loose ball. That turnover set up Tampa Bay’s only touchdown drive of the first half and helped to set the tone for the first two quarters of action.”

“With his quarterback takedown against the Jaguars on Saturday night, Bucs defensive tackle Anthony McFarland now has two sacks in three preseason games this year. For inquiring minds that want to know, McFarland recorded a total of two sacks in 15 regular season games in 2005. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come from “Booger,” who has been showing some impressive pass rushing ability as of late.”

“Bucs quarterback Chris Simms got off to a great start against the Jaguars, completing key passes to running back Cadillac Williams, wide receiver Michael Clayton and tight end Alex Smith en route Tampa Bay’s touchdown drive early in the first quarter. But from there, Simms and the Bucs offense struggled to move the ball on a consistent basis. He completed 9-of-14 passes for 77 yards, but the Bucs offense converted just 1-of-7 third down attempts and produced just 62 net yards in the first half. Tampa Bay’s offense started off in Jacksonville territory on its first three drives, yet it only came away with eight points. Simms was under heavy duress after the first drive and was sacked three times in the first half. Tampa Bay’s offensive line also committed two penalties with Simms in the lineup. While the offensive struggles weren’t all due to the quarterback, Simms had three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. That’s troublesome seeing as Tampa Bay actually built a PVC pipe dummy to help its starting signal caller remedy this problem in practices.”

“It was nice to see Bucs head coach Jon Gruden give rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski the opportunity to play with the second-team offense instead of Tim Rattay. Gradkowski had outperformed Rattay in the first two exhibition games and had earned the right to play with the second-team offense on Saturday night. However, he didn’t do much to earn the right to keep the backup job behind Simms after he completed 10-of-17 passes for 124 yards and tossed two interceptions in the third and fourth quarter, respectively. He also fumbled a ball that Jacksonville recovered and eventually turned into another touchdown. The rookie signal caller looked like a rookie in his third preseason game. However, it was somewhat encouraging to see Gradkowski finish the game by completing seven of his final eight passes, including his final pass of the game, which went to receiver Paris Warren for a 4-yard touchdown.”

Contributing Writer Mark Lennox
“One thing that rings true about the third preseason football game is that it truly is an audition for many of the players on the bubble vying for a roster spot. If the game versus the Jaguars is any indication of what these second- and third-string players have to offer, I think Bucs general manager Bruce Allen will have some easy decisions to make come Tuesday. Tampa Bay’s second- and third-string offense and defense looked like a Pop Warner team with the offense surrendering three turnovers and the defense surrendering 29 second-half points. Jacksonville’s running backs bruised the backup front seven. Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was responsible for all three turnovers, tossing two interceptions and fumbling once on an attempted scramble. With many calling for Gradkowski to play with the second-team offense, Bucs fans can finally calm down the ‘Gradkowski is the future’ campaign. With the exception of the opening drive, the Buccaneers offense looked pathetic. The offensive line was porous, but that was to be expected. The Jaguars boast one of the more dominant defensive front sevens in the league. Bucs starting QB Chris Simms again struggled with batted balls, which seems to be an equal blend of shoddy offensive line play and Simms telegraphing his passes.”

“Defensively, the Buccaneers first unit looked like they were ready for opening day. The front four had great penetration with defensive end Simeon Rice and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland contributing to the four sacks on Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich and company. The Bucs’ opening drive on offense should be something to build confidence on. Running back Cadillac Williams was catching balls out of the backfield, tight end Alex Smith got involved and wide receiver Michael Clayton had a superb catch to keep the drive alive. Fullback Mike Alstott’s run up the gut was an example of vintage ‘A-Train.’ This bodes well for the Buccaneers if the offense can keep up the intensity similar to their first drive. The defense will be there, as usual. But the offense looks intriguing enough to cause some optimistic speculation.”

This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider 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.

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