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Publisher Scott Reynolds “Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin deserves praise for playing the players who produce. Instead of using 2007 first-round pick Gaines Adams as the first defensive end substitution as he did during the first two weeks of the season, that role fell on the shoulders of unheralded free agent Greg White, who recorded his first NFL sack last week against New Orleans. White, who started at right defensive end in place of Adams in nickel defense, received more playing time than Adams on Sunday against St. Louis. Adams, who had done little in his first two NFL games, seemed motivated by the demotion, and finished with two tackles, including one for a loss, while White recorded just one stop. Adams also came perilously close to recording his first NFL sack while rushing from the left side, but sack opportunities were far and few between as Rams QB Marc Bulger implemented a three-step drop, quick passing game on almost every throwing situation.”
“Kudos also go to Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden for the same approach. When his star running back, Cadillac Williams, fumbled at the start of the fourth quarter, Gruden pulled him and split the carries between Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman for the rest of the game. Graham responded with 75 yards rushing on eight carries and had two rushing scores, while Pittman had three carries for 21 yards in the fourth quarter. After last year, in which his quarterbacks threw 18 interceptions and his players lost 14 fumbles, Gruden is fed up with turnovers. Williams already has two fumbles on the season and may be endanger of losing some carries in future games to Graham and Pittman, who were turnover free and very productive against St. Louis. It's important to the team to play the best players – regardless of their status. Gruden scores points by doing that on Sunday.”
“The unsung hero today for the Buccaneers was fullback B.J. Askew, who did a fantastic job of blowing up Rams linebackers on Sunday, while helping Tampa Bay accumulate 182 yards rushing. It might be sacrilege to say that the Bucs haven’t missed fullback Mike Alstott this year, but after three games that might be true. Alstott’s best year as a lead blocker came in 2005 in which he paved the way for Cadillac Williams’ 1,000-yard season that made him the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. But Alstott’s blocking was sub-par last year at age 33, and the Bucs addressed that by signing Askew to help split time as a lead blocker and become Tampa Bay’s blocking back of the future. With Alstott sidelined for the year with a neck injury, the future is now. Askew has been the primary lead blocker and has gotten better each week. His effort against St. Louis rivals some of Alstott’s superb games of the 2005 season.”
“It’s unfortunate that there is a jinx on Tampa Bay’s first-round draft picks. After stellar rookie seasons, the last three Buccaneers first-rounders have suffered sophomore slumps. The woes of wide receiver Michael Clayton and running back Cadillac Williams after their rookie seasons have been well documented. Second-year right guard Davin Joseph appears to be the latest victim. The 2006 first-round pick had sub-par games at Seattle and against St. Louis and was having fits with Rams defensive tackles Adam Carriker and La’ Roi Glover on Sunday, especially in pass protection. Joseph fared better in the second half, especially in the running game. But through three games, Joseph was outplayed by rookie left guard Arron Sears, who had a sensational game against St. Louis. In addition to Sears, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood had a very good outing. Joseph needs to pick up his play next week against Carolina.”
“As a long-time critic of Mark Jones, I have to give the Bucs’ return man a lot of credit. He had two fantastic returns of 36 yards (kick return in the third quarter) and 35 yards (punt return in the fourth quarter), and both of those big plays set up Tampa Bay touchdowns. Jones has bounced on and off the Bucs roster during his tenure with the team, but Tampa Bay's patience with him is finally paying off with some great field position due to his long returns. Ironically, the Bucs likely wouldn’t have Jones on their team if not for David Boston’s DUI arrest. Boston’s release after Week 1 due to a foot injury (and a positive result for GHB in his urinalysis) prompted the return of Jones. Thus, Boston's DUI arrest was a blessing in disguise. On the season, Jones has two kick returns for 72 yards (36 yard avg.) and almost brought a kickoff back all the way against St. Louis; along with four punt returns for 60 yards (15 yard avg.). It's clear to see that Jones is playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
“Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris is making his presence felt right away in 2007. Not only has Tampa Bay’s secondary not allowed a 100-yard receiver this season, the improvement in strong safety Jermaine Phillips has been remarkable. Phillips, who struggled mightily in 2006, is playing with supreme confidence and improved technique in 2007. He recorded his first interception of the year against St. Louis and also had seven tackles and a pass defensed. Phillips is tied for second on the team in tackles with 27 and also has a sack. Young nickel corner Phillip Buchanon is also benefiting from Morris’ tutelage. Buchanon leads the team with four passes defensed and recorded his first interception of the season against St. Louis. Not only is the player known as ‘P-Buc’ playing exceptionally well against the pass, his technique is improving against the run. Versus the Rams, Buchanon notched four tackles after coming into Sunday’s game with three stops in the first two contests of 2007.”
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn “Competition has definitely brought out the best in Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips. Phillips held off second-round draft pick Sabby Piscitelli in training camp to keep his starting job, and has come up big through the first three games of the season. Sunday was certainly no exception. At the beginning of the second quarter with the Rams offense staring at a third-and-3 situation, Phillips showed rare playmaking ability by jumping a quarterback Marc Bulger pass thrown to wide receiver Isaac Bruce and intercepting it to stall a drive on the Bucs’ 33-yard line. What’s more rare – Phillips intercepting a pass or Bulger throwing one? Well, Phillips had four career interceptions since 2002 heading into Sunday’s game and Bulger threw just eight picks in 588 pass attempts in 2006, so either way you cut it it’s pretty rare. Later in the second quarter, Phillips came up big again by knocking Bruce out of the game with a hard hit across the middle of the field. Piscitelli isn’t playing on defense, but he’s made the defense better by pushing Phillips.”
“Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton has got some confidence and concentration issues that I’m not sure he’s going to shake at this point. The former 2004 first-round draft pick caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but he hasn’t come close to showing glimpses of being that productive receiver over the past few seasons. He’s battled through injuries and dropped passes, which has some labeling him a bust. It’s getting more and more difficult to dispute that notion when Clayton has gaffes like the ones he had vs. the Rams. Near the end of the first half with the Bucs driving against the Rams, Clayton got himself wide open on a slant but dropped the perfectly thrown ball from quarterback Jeff Garcia. Had he caught the pass, Clayton would have easily gained 20-plus yards on the play. A few plays later, Clayton caught a pass from Garcia for a first down, but he fumbled the ball. Luckily for Clayton and the Bucs, tight end Alex Smith recovered the ball. Clayton isn’t going to catch 80 passes again in Jon Gruden’s offense while Joey Galloway is still playing, but he needs to make the most of his opportunities in the passing game when they come his way. Otherwise, Clayton’s opportunities will cease in favor of Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall.”
“The Bucs have won two straight games for the first time since October of 2006. They are 2-1 and have a winning record for the first time since 2005. Tampa Bay has outscored its last two opponents by score of 55-17. The skeptics might look at the fact that the Bucs have recorded both of their wins against teams that haven’t won a game yet this season, but Tampa Bay can prove it is for real by pulling off the upset in Carolina next Sunday. The Bucs are 1-7 in their last eight meetings vs. the Panthers. However, their one win against the Panthers came in Carolina in 2005, which is the same year the Bucs won the NFC South division title.”
“Are Bucs fans still upset about the team releasing Shelton Quarles? No offense to Quarles because he was a great player at one point in time, but Barrett Ruud is making people forget about Quarles rather quickly. Ruud has been a tackling and playmaking machine. He has forced two fumbles, notched two fumbles recoveries and recorded an interception over the past two games, in addition to leading the Bucs with 39 tackles.”
Contributing Writer Charles Gonzalez “The Bucs defense showed it is good enough to battle through bad penalties this season. The Bucs defense was called for two penalties on the same drive that set up the Rams in scoring position. On the Rams’ first drive in the second half, the defense assisted St. Louis’ offense with two 15-yard penalties. Both penalties were shaky at best, but were called nonetheless. Linebacker Derrick Brooks was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty on St. Louis tight end Randy McMichael after McMichael seemed as though he bounced off of cornerback Phillip Buchanon’s tackle. This penalty moved the ball to the Bucs' 22-yard line. Two plays later, cornerback Ronde Barber was called for a taunting penalty after Rams wide receiver Dante Hall caught a 2-yard reception. This penalty moved the ball to the 11-yard line. Last season, the defense would have folded and allowed the Rams to roll into the end zone. This year, however, the defense was able to shake off the two penalties and keep the Rams from scoring when Buchanon intercepted quarterback Marc Bulger in the end zone. This was another solid effort from the defense, forcing three turnovers.”
“Wide receiver Michael Clayton keeps giving head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Jeff Garcia all the ammunition they need to not throw him the ball. After a stellar rookie season, Clayton continues to look like a first-round bust instead of a playmaker. With the Bucs driving at the end of the first half for a potential touchdown, Clayton had a pass on his hands with room to run and couldn’t keep a grasp on the ball. For a wide receiver that doesn’t get many opportunities, Clayton is losing his grip on the amount of playing time he’s getting in the offense. Garcia showed his confidence, which shouldn’t be high, going back to Clayton two plays later and, although he caught the ball this time, Clayton fumbled the ball and almost ended the drive with a turnover. Bucs fans know what Clayton can do, but if he doesn’t start showing it in a hurry, his days in Tampa Bay are numbered.”
“St. Louis Rams placekicker Jeff Wilkins has been an accurate kicker during his 14-year career playing for the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and in his 11th year with the Rams. Wilkins, however, got rattled by the Bucs, missing two of his three field goal attempts. In a game that was close until the fourth quarter, Wilkins’ crucial misses allowed the Bucs to keep the momentum on their side. Wilkins missed a 42-yard field goal wide left in the second quarter with the game still in a scoreless tie. With the score 10-0, Wilkins missed a 43-yard field goal to thwart another potential scoring drive by the Rams. Wilkins was 5-of-6 on field goals coming into Sunday’s contest and has made 82.5 percent of his kicks during his career. Wilkins’ misses assisted the Bucs victory as much as the defense’s play on Sunday.”
“The Bucs pass rush recorded two sacks last week as New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees dropped back to pass 44 times. Gruden called for more of a pass rush this week against quarterback Marc Bulger. Bulger dropped back 26 times and the Bucs defense recorded only one sack. Even though the Bucs defense has allowed only 17 points in the past two victories, the lack of a pass rush will eventually catch up to them. With veterans in defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg Spires, the Bucs defensive line should be getting to the quarterback a little bit more. The Tampa 2 defense is predicated on getting a pass rush from the defensive line on the quarterback. The Bucs defense cannot afford to keep allowing quarterbacks to sit in the pocket and expect the secondary to make plays. Bulger did throw a lot of quick passes where the ball was out of his hand in one step, but he also had some five or seven-step drops where he had time to look down field. That is something that must be cured before going on the road against Carolina with quarterback Jake Delhomme and on the road at Indianapolis with Peyton Manning.”
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