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Publisher Scott Reynolds
“It was nice to see a sack from one of Tampa Bay’s starting defensive linemen tonight. Under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland beat Miami guard Bennie Anderson to sack quarterback Daunte Culpepper a play after Barrett Ruud got to Culpepper for the game’s first sack. Why was this a good sign? Consider the fact that no one on the starting defense recorded a sack in all of last preseason, nor did any starter record a sack in the preseason opener – unless you count Kalvin Pearson’s QB takedown from his safety blitz. Tampa Bay needs to generate more pass rush from its starting four defensive linemen after only recording 20 sacks collectively last year. McFarland only had two of those 20, so his early activity against Miami had to please the Buccaneers. Defensive ends Andrew Williams and Dewayne White also got great pressure against the Dolphins.”

“Barrett Ruud is the Bucs’ preseason MVP on defense thus far. He had a great night with eight tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. He almost had a second sack, but Daunte Culpepper was able to release the ball before he was tackled. Still, Culpepper was flagged for intentional grounding, so the result was the same as a sack. Ruud has a tremendous knack for finding the ball and superb instincts. Shelton Quarles had a great year in 2005 and deserves to start, but the Bucs are getting Ruud a lot of snaps during the preseason to prepare him to play if necessary. At some point in time, Ruud will take over as the team’s starting middle linebacker – and the Bucs won’t miss a beat.”

“Blue Adams has made a nice transition from cornerback to safety. He’s seeing the field real well and he was a very active tackler with six stops tonight. With only one month of playing safety under his belt, he’s likely moved past second-year player Donte Nicholson, who was Tampa Bay’s fifth-round draft pick a year ago. The speedy Adams should make this team. He’s also dynamite on special teams.”

“Center John Wade did not play tonight, which could be an indication that the Bucs might trade him. With Cleveland being desperate for help at center and Sean Mahan expected to be the future at center for Tampa Bay, trading the aging Wade to the Browns might be ideal. The Bucs might want to see if they can deal Toniu Fonoti, too. He can’t move laterally in pass protection because he’s simply too big and slow-footed. He’s not a good fit for this offense and will likely be cut, especially with Jeb Terry moving over to the left side where he is now battling with Dan Buenning for that starting job. Fonoti is the fourth guard and will likely be the odd-man-out. If Bruce Allen can get something for him – even a seventh-rounder – he should take it. Fonoti can play in the NFL, but he’s a better fit for a team like Dallas, which likes big, massive phone booth-style offensive linemen like Fonoti.”

“With rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski completing 22-of-27 passes (81.5 percent) for 297 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception through the first two preseason games, it’s time for head coach Jon Gruden to put Gradkowski in the next preseason game with the first- and second-stringers instead of the second- and third-stringers. I want to see what this kid can do against some starters and some of the players who will actually make NFL teams. Tim Rattay doesn’t seem to inspire much confidence in the huddle from some of the players I’ve spoken with. Gradkowski, on the other hand, has some moxie and swagger about him that excites the huddle and they rally around him. Experience be damned. Gradkowski should be Tampa Bay’s backup behind Chris Simms.”

“Tampa Bay’s starting defense forced three three-and-outs by Miami’s offense, held the Dolphins to just 25 first quarter yards, recorded two sacks and a forced fumble. Nice job considering the fact that Shelton Quarles, Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice weren’t out there.”

Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
“It’s time for the Buccaneers to give rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski some playing time with the second-team offense. After watching veteran Tim Rattay fail to move the Bucs offense while completing 4-of-5 passes for 26 yards and tossing a costly interception, Gradkowski showed that his debut in last week’s preseason game was no fluke by completing 11-of-14 passes for 193 yards and tossing one touchdown and one interception. Gradkowski showed great poise in the pocket and good command of the offense, which was flat until he entered the game. The rookie signal caller threw several impressive passes at key times in the game, including a 48-yard bomb down the left sideline for wide receiver Edell Shepherd, who scored a touchdown on the play. Although his night ended on a sour note with a poorly thrown pass to Shepherd getting batted in the air and intercepted as the Bucs were driving deep into Dolphins territory, Gradkowski made a strong case for working with the second-team offense next weekend in Jacksonville.”

“With a logjam at the receiver position on Tampa Bay’s depth chart, someone needed to step up and make some plays on Saturday night, and that someone was WR Edell Shepherd. Up until tonight’s exhibition game, Shepherd was a player on the bubble. He had an inconsistent training camp, caught just one pass in the preseason opener and was in danger of losing his roster spot. However, Shepherd stepped up big against Miami by hauling in three passes for 93 yards (31.0 avg.). Shepherd hooked up with Gradkowski for all three of his receptions, including a 48-yard grab down the sideline for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Shepherd is a sharp route runner, and he showed Saturday night why he’s worthy of a 53-man roster spot.”

“Don’t be surprised if guard Toniu Fonoti is one of the players released when the Bucs make their roster cuts before the regular season starts. His 370-pound frame makes him a capable blocker in the running game, but he just isn’t mobile enough to pass protect. The Bucs appear to be comfortable with rookie Davin Joseph starting at right guard, which has allowed Jeb Terry to take a significant amount of reps at left guard behind starter Dan Buenning. Terry should secure the backup guard job behind Buenning and Joseph, which would make Fonoti expendable.”

“Tampa Bay fullback Carey Davis certainly has cooled off from last week’s stellar performance. With Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman out of Saturday night’s game, Davis carried the ball eight times but rushed for just 13 yards (1.6 avg.). He had a costly fumble on Miami’s 17-yard line in the third quarter. Not only did that turnover kill Tampa Bay’s promising drive, it set up a scoring drive that ended with a 52-yard field goal for Miami. Davis still has a legitimate shot at making the roster since fullbacks Rick Razzano and Jerald Sowell haven’t played particularly well in preseason.

Contributing Writer Mark Lennox
“The Buccaneers offense looked impressive on its opening drive. It was good to see wide receiver Michael Clayton get back into the mix. If he returns to optimum health, the Buccaneers easily have one of the most dangerous and potent air attacks in the NFL. Receiver Ike Hilliard remains ‘Mr. Reliable’ along the unit. He continues to impress with big catch after big catch every week. Hilliard has a nose for the ball and is one of the more sure handed receivers Tampa Bay has on its roster.”

“It was interesting to see offensive lineman Sean Mahan start at center in place of John Wade. Wade has been a capable player for the Buccaneers for years, but the fact that Mahan is pushing for starting playing time means that the Bucs may finally have some depth and talent along the offensive line. Given the fact that most of the starters along the offensive line have three years of experience or less, adding more youth and talent at the center position could give the Bucs a young and promising future along an offensive unit that has been much maligned from virtually every pundit in the league.”

“While wide receiver Edell Shepherd’s performance may put a smile on many fans’ faces, Shepherd may be the odd man out when it comes time to get down to 53 players. The Buccaneers have too much talent at the position with Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard, David Boston and rookie Maurice Stovall. Sheppard only made big plays against third- and fourth-string Dolphin players. If Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and his staff had more faith in Shepherd, I doubt he would be making the bulk of his catches against future grocery baggers. Although Shepherd has made some big catches for the Buccaneers in the past, his latest performance may be window dressing when the cuts start. Hopefully this was a suitable enough audition for a team lacking depth at the wideout position.

“Speaking of Maurice Stovall, how about the catch he made between defenders to get the Buccaneers offense into the red zone in the third quarter? Although Stovall only had the one catch, he made the most of his opportunity by hauling in the 36-yard strike. With his huge frame and fluidity, Stovall can line up at either wide receiver or tight end and be a heavy mismatch for defenses across the league. As the regular season approaches, it will be interesting to see how Stovall is used in the offense. His play on the field and in practice is proving why he was worth a third-round pick in this year’s draft.”

“In the Buccaneers victory over the Jets, Tampa Bay was only flagged four times for 44 yards. Against the Dolphins, the Buccaneers committed nine penalties for 63 yards, including a holding penalty that nullified a 10-yard reception by WR Ike Hilliard that would have given the Buccaneers a first down and kept a key drive alive. On too many occasions, the Buccaneers seem to shoot themselves in the foot when they start to pick up momentum. The offensive line needs to do a better job of holding their pass protection without committing costly errors.”

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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