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Publisher Scott Reynolds “Uh oh. The Buccaneers might have blown it with their first-round draft pick in 2007. Needing a disruptive, pass-rushing under tackle in the worst way with the unheralded Jovan Haye as its starter, Tampa Bay bypassed the top defensive tackle in the NFL Draft, Louisville’s Amobi Okoye, and selected Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams with the fourth overall selection. After four games, here’s how both players stack up. Adams has yet to become a starter and record his first sack, while Okoye has started four games for Houston, who selected him with the 10th overall pick, and already has four sacks on the season. With Tampa Bay’s pass rush struggling, the Bucs could have really used Okoye’s presence inside. That’s not to say that Adams won’t ever develop into a good or even a great pro with the Buccaneers, but Okoye’s hot start is something that can’t be overlooked or ignored. Perhaps a guy I’m really fond of and have often praised, rookie Greg Peterson, can continue to develop and eventually become a starting under tackle and a playmaker for the Bucs. Peterson, Tampa Bay’s fifth-round draft pick, had two tackles, another sack (he had half a sack last week) and a fumble recovery against Carolina. Haye didn’t play too bad, either with four tackles and a sack (he has two on the season). But Adams struggled, notching just one tackle despite getting plenty of playing time in the second half of the Panthers game.”
“The Buccaneers were interested in trading for quarterback David Carr during the offseason. The team wasn’t sure Jeff Garcia would get out of Philadelphia and be available in free agency. Ultimately he would become a free agent and become a Buccaneer, as would Jake Plummer, whom Tampa Bay acquired in a trade with Denver. The reason the team passed on Carr was because the Bucs felt he had taken too many sacks in Houston – 249 to be exact. In five pass attempts last Sunday in Atlanta, Carr was sacked for the 250th time in his career. Head coach Jon Gruden had a player like this once. He was a sack waiting to happen and his name was Rob Johnson. Carr, who filled in today for an injured Jake Delhomme, was sacked three more times by the Bucs defense on Sunday and had a horrible day, completing 19-of-41 passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and one interception (54.4 QB rating). Teams are often judged by the personnel moves they make, but sometimes it’s the moves teams don’t make that actually pay off. Tampa Bay made a smart decision in passing on Carr based on his showing today.”
“Tampa Bay reserve wide receivers Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall have been disappointing as pass catchers on offense, but have made some impact plays on special teams. Clayton returned the opening kickoff 19 yards to the Tampa Bay 29. Stovall teamed with defensive end Patrick Chukwurah to down Josh Bidwell’s first punt at the Carolina 4. These weren’t huge, impact plays, but these two Buccaneers role players were doing the little things right. Winning in the NFL is about making big plays, but also doing the little things right, too. At some point in time, though, both Clayton and Stovall will have to step up as wide receivers. The Bucs hope that they will stand and deliver.”
“As if Cadillac Williams’ knee injury wasn’t bad enough on Sunday, the Bucs also lost left tackle Luke Petitgout with a knee sprain. Believe it or not, Petitgout’s injury may be more significant, even though he likely won’t be out for the season like Williams might be. The reason? Unheralded and untested Donald Penn will have to face right defensive end Dwight Freeney next Sunday on the artificial surface of the noisy RCA Dome. That has to be a concern for head coach Jon Gruden, who might have to give Penn help with a back or a tight end on passing downs. Williams will be missed as the season goes along, but right now Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman are more physical backs and are playing better. Neither Pittman nor Graham dances around in the backfield, and both are better receivers between the two backs. Williams dropped two passes that hit him right in the hands against Carolina. It’s not that the Bucs are better off without Williams. They aren’t. But with Graham and Michael Pittman running the ball so well behind a stellar effort from Tampa Bay’s offensive line, the loss of Williams will be lessened. Remember, the Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2002 with Pittman, who had 90 yards against the Panthers on Sunday, and power back Mike Alstott.”
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn “Too many pundits wrote the Tampa Bay Buccaneers off before the 2007 regular season even began. There were plenty of reasons for skepticism. The Bucs did, after all, go 4-12 last season. However, even the critics should know that the NFL allows bad teams to improve in a hurry, and that’s exactly what has happened with the Bucs. Tampa Bay dominated its opponent for the third straight week, downing Carolina 20-7 on Sunday. How impressive was this feat? Well, Carolina had defeated Tampa Bay seven of the last eight times they met. You would have been hard pressed to find anyone in the local or national media that gave the Bucs a lot of credit for their wins over the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams. Even though the combined score of those two contests was 55-17, some remained skeptical since neither the Saints nor the Rams have a win this season. But you can bet that the national media will take notice of Tampa Bay’s impressive 20-7 win in Carolina. The Bucs are off to a 3-1 start and in first place in the NFC South division. This is no fluke. The Bucs have defeated their last three opponents by a combined score of 75-24 and might be the third best team in the NFC only behind Dallas and Green Bay. This team received plenty of criticism when a lot of it was warranted last year. Now it’s time for those same critics to swallow their pride and give the Bucs some props as their 3-1 start is truly a remarkable feat. What would be even more remarkable than Tampa Bay’s 20-7 win over Carolina? How about the Bucs going into Indianapolis and finding a way to escape with a win over the 4-0 and defending Super Bowl champion Colts?”
“It’s amazing how well Tampa Bay’s defense is playing despite not having a consistent pass rush from its defensive line. The Bucs recorded three sacks on Panthers backup quarterback David Carr, but two of those takedowns came in the fourth quarter. But for a significant portion of the game Carr had a comfortable pocket to throw out of. However, Carr had a terrible time finding open receivers thanks to the play of Tampa Bay’s secondary, which was without cornerback Brian Kelly. Bucs nickel cornerback Phillip Buchanon moved into the starting lineup to replace Kelly and helped shut down Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. In fact, Smith caught just five passes for 32 yards (6.4 avg.) on Sunday. While the front four hasn’t generated a great pass rush, it has played extremely physical and well against the run. Panthers running back DeShaun Foster rushed for just 64 yards on 15 carries and Carolina produced just 99 yards rushing on Sunday. In past meetings with Carolina, Tampa Bay’s defensive line was manhandled in the trenches, but that wasn’t the case Sunday. The Bucs also produced two turnovers – a fumble caused by rookie safety Tanard Jackson and an interception by S Jermaine Phillips. As a result, Tampa Bay improved to 3-1 and was just 23 seconds away from posting a shutout. While it would be ideal for Tampa Bay’s pass rush to substantially improve sometime soon, the Bucs defense might not need it to keep winning games this year.”
“Kudos to Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard, who was listed as questionable all week with an ankle injury that caused him to miss a significant portion of practice time. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden used Hilliard as a part of his three-receiver sets in the first quarter to open things up and exploit Carolina’s suspect secondary and linebacking corps, which was without Mike ‘backer Dan Morgan. Hilliard caught a team-high seven passes for 114 yards vs. the Panthers. While he had a costly fumble in field goal range in the second quarter, Hilliard helped to make up for that mistake by hauling in a 56-yard pass from quarterback Jeff Garcia on the next offensive series. That grab put the Bucs on the Panthers’ 10-yard line. If you’re looking for the Bucs’ unsung hero through the first quarter of the season, you probably don’t have to look past Hilliard, who has been consistent and reliable.”
Contributing Writer Charles Gonzalez “The Bucs players and coaches talked all week long about the challenge of going on the road and getting a big victory in the division. The Bucs dominated the first quarter to open the season at Seattle. Tampa Bay, however, settled for two field goals in the red zone instead of scoring touchdowns, which kept the Seahawks in the game. The Bucs offense showed its steady improvement since the 20-6 loss in Seattle with its domination of the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers. Two trips into the red zone in the first quarter for the offense produced two touchdowns – a 3-yard run by quarterback Jeff Garcia and a 1-yard run by running back Earnest Graham – and took the Carolina crowd out of the game in a hurry. The Bucs have been successful this season when the offense was able to get a lead and then allowing the defense to play their attacking, aggressive style. That was the recipe for wins against the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints. It worked again as the Bucs took an early 14-0 lead and pounded the Panthers with the running game in the second half. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard became a favorite target for Garcia in both drives. This was the perfect scenario for the Bucs offense in a big divisional road game and set the tone for a 20-7 victory over the rival Panthers.”
“With the NFL being a copycat league, many teams have gone to the two-back backfield set with running backs to take some of the pressure off of one back carrying the load. The Bucs took it a step further with three running backs – Cadillac Williams, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham. The depth at running back was eminent in a 24-3 victory last week against the St. Louis Rams. Graham made some noise in that game with 75 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns. Pittman is a threat to run the ball and become a receiver out of the backfield and Williams has been the feature back the last two seasons. The depth at running back showed up against Carolina after Williams went down with a knee injury and didn’t return. With the potential of losing Williams for the season, Pittman and Graham have showed that they are more than capable of carrying the load in the running game. Head coach Jon Gruden said on Monday that he would have to find ways to get the ball to Graham, now that he has had success running the ball. He might have to center the game plan around Graham after his second consecutive productive game running the ball.”
“The run blocking from the offensive line was a major question mark heading into the regular season after little success running the ball in the preseason. The offense had only 177 yards rushing in the first two games of the season. Tampa Bay’s running attack racked up 177 yards rushing last week from all three running backs and piled up 179 yards from Graham, Williams and Pittman against the Panthers. The last two weeks the run blocking has been much better, including the play of rookie guard Arron Sears. Sears was seen leading the way during many of the running plays against the Rams, but the Bucs were successful running on either side of the line today. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and right guard Davin Joseph did a good job of moving the defensive line off the ball and Sears was leading the run, pulling on running plays just like last week. Even after the loss of left tackle Luke Petitgout, tackle Donald Penn did a good job of filling in and Tampa Bay found a lot of success running behind Penn and Sears in the second half. The run blocking is now equal to the pass blocking and the Bucs offense is a balanced unit. This is what Gruden wanted and it makes the offense even more difficult to defend with a powerful running attack.”
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