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Publisher Scott Reynolds “If not for a dislocated ankle on his game-winning, 31-yard touchdown, the Buccaneers were going to keep Paris Warren on the roster. All this guy did in training camp and the preseason was make plays. According to Tampa Bay’s coaches, the best thing Warren did was to not make mistakes. Although not the fleetest of foot, Warren was sure-handed and deadly on slant passes, taking one slant 51 yards to help set up a Tampa Bay touchdown in the first half. He also displayed enough speed in outracing Texans cornerback Dexter McCleon on his 31-yard scoring play before being tackled awkwardly in the end zone and injuring his ankle. This injury is an absolute shame. During this preseason, Warren also showed he can play on special teams, recording a couple of tackles in the four exhibition season and fielding some punts against Houston. Warren is a younger version of Ike Hilliard, who is a clutch receiver, and would have been one of six receivers on this team alongside Hilliard, Joey Galloway, David Boston, Maurice Stovall and Michael Clayton.”
“If there was a major disappointing aspect of Tampa Bay’s preseason it was the play of the Bucs defense. Not only did Tampa Bay surrender a lot of points and more long scoring drives than defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wanted to see, but the Bucs didn’t generate as much QB pressure as they wanted to. In 2006, Tampa Bay posted 11 sacks in the preseason, an average of almost three per game. But in 2007, the Buccaneers managed only eight sacks, despite adding several new defensive linemen this offseason with the intention of generating a better pass rush. The positive news is that out of those eight sacks, three of them came from likely starters Gaines Adams (two) and Kevin Carter (one), but eight sacks in four preseason games – an average of two sacks per game – is not nearly enough for Tampa Bay to feel comfortable with its pass rush heading into the season opener at Seattle on September 9.”
“Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden believes that new wrinkles like the shotgun and the no-huddle offense, which the Bucs used at times against Houston on Thursday night, will make a difference during the regular season. ‘It’s something we’re going to dabble in,’ Gruden said. ‘We’ve got some guys who have been in this system. Our receiving corps is a veteran group and it can be the difference in the ball game.’
“It was nice to see strong safety Sabby Piscitelli make some plays in the preseason finale. Although he was only credited with two tackles and one pass breakup against the Texans, the rookie defensive back was flying around the field and was always around the ball. Piscitelli’s signature play of the night came when he picked off Jared Zabransky to help set up a Buccaneers touchdown in the second quarter. He picked off 15 passes at Oregon State during his collegiate career, and plays like the one he made on Zabransky’s pass are the reason Tampa Bay made him a second-round pick. ‘He had an interception, he had a couple good hits, he had a couple plays that he'll have to respond to and why they were like they were,’ Bucs head coach Gruden said. ‘He and [fellow rookie safety] Tanard Jackson showed you a lot tonight – their range, their upside, and their playmaking potential. Whether they're ready or not for Seattle – we'll have to see.’”
“I had the chance to shake Chris Simms’ hand tonight after the game and we didn’t say anything to each other except for a mutual ‘Thanks.’ He just looked me in the eye and gave me nod like he knew he wasn’t going to be playing for the Buccaneers this year. I think Simms will be released on Saturday when the team pares its roster down to 53 men. The only chance he stays in Tampa Bay is the sudden and suspicious hip injury he developed that kept him out of Thursday night’s preseason game somehow lands him on injured reserve. The look on Simms’ face was one of ‘It was nice knowing you.’ If this is the last I see of Simms, I wish him well. He’s a great kid who tried really hard during his time in Tampa Bay regardless of the fact that he wasn’t a great fit for Jon Gruden’s offense.”
“Tampa Bay’s offseason was a productive one. Jon Gruden’s offense looks like it will score more points in 2007. The Bucs offense scored 87 points through four preseason games and averaged 21.8 points per game in posting a 3-1 record in August. That’s a far cry from a year ago when the Bucs went 1-3 in the preseason, scoring a total of 57 points – an average of 14.3 points per game. Tampa Bay scored a total of 94 points when you include Cato June’s defensive touchdown against Miami. That pushes Tampa Bay’s preseason scoring average to 23.5 points per game.”
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn “Bucs fullback Mike Alstott will never be forgotten in Tampa Bay. Whether his career is over or not, Alstott will always be a legend to Bucs fans. However, new Bucs FB B.J. Askew could help ease the pain of losing Alstott for the season. Askew displayed good blocking ability and soft hands during training camp, and he put his pass-catching skills on display vs. Houston. In the second quarter of Thursday night’s contest with Tampa Bay on Houston’s 11-yard line, Bucs quarterback Luke McCown threw a pass in the flat for Askew. Not only did he catch the pass, Askew showed some impressive athleticism, balance and playmaking ability by using a spin move to break a tackle from linebacker Danny Clark and put his hand on the turf to keep his balance. From there, Askew strolled down the sideline and in to the end zone for a touchdown. This play reminded me a lot of what Alstott used to be able to do with the ball as a receiver in his prime. We hadn’t seen this type of playmaking ability from Tampa Bay’s fullback position in a while, but perhaps Askew will bring it back this season.”
“Bucs quarterback Bruce Gradkowski had an impressive finish to the preseason. He completed 13-of-20 passes for 141 yards and threw one touchdown and no interceptions vs. Houston. His game-winning 31-yard strike to WR Paris Warren in the fourth quarter was a bit underthrown, but still resulted in a score. However, it is clear that Gradkowski still is struggling mightily with the deep ball. He missed WR Chas Gessner down the sidelines on two consecutive plays in the fourth quarter. Three times didn’t prove to be the charm, either, as Gradkowski had his third deep pass intended for Gessner nearly intercepted by Texans CB Fred Bennett with four minutes remaining in the game. However, the Bucs challenged the play, claiming Bennett did not get both feet in bounds. That proved to be true, which kept what would turn out to be Tampa Bay’s game-winning drive alive. On the very next play, Gradkowski once again tried to hit Gessner deep, this time down the right sideline, but the pass sailed out of bounds and missed the mark by about 10 yards. The bad news for the Bucs is Gradkowski can’t throw the deep ball well at all compared to Jeff Garcia and Luke McCown. The good news for Gradkowski is he’s playing in a West Coast offense that requires most of his passes to attack the short-to-intermediate part of the football field.”
“Tampa Bay’s offense will take some much-needed momentum into Seattle when these two teams clash in Week 1 on Sunday, Sept. 9. The Bucs offense posted 31 points against Houston and 24 points against Miami to end the preseason with two straight wins. It’s just preseason, but not for a team coming off of 4-12 and an offense that scored just 20 touchdowns in 16 regular season games in 2006. Tampa Bay has scored a total of 13 points in its last two regular season meetings with Seattle. The Bucs will need to score more points than that to down the Seahawks one week from this Sunday. If the preseason is any indication, Tampa Bay’s offense should be able to decorate the scoreboard this season.”
“Your heart can’t help but go out to Bucs wide receiver Paris Warren. He was putting together quite a preseason before it all came to a horrific end on Thursday night when Warren’s 31-yard game-winning touchdown reception resulted in a severely dislocated ankle. That injury has ended Warren’s season. He had caught 15 passes and four touchdowns in preseason, and seven passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns vs. Houston. Warren was well on his way to earning a 53-man roster spot before suffering the unfortunate injury. That injury guarantees WR Michael Clayton an active roster spot – although Pewter Report has heard that Clayton was going to make the team anyway.”
Contributing Writer Charles Gonzalez “After falling behind 14-0 on a long scoring drive by the Houston Texans offense and a fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback Jamar Fletcher, the Bucs second team showed their resiliency and kept their composure. The Bucs offense ignited a 24-point outburst with two consecutive scoring drives sandwiched between a three-and-out from the defense in the first 20 minutes of the game. Quarterback Luke McCown orchestrated both scoring drives, trying to put some space between him and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski for the No. 2 spot. Running back Earnest Graham, wide receivers Paris Warren and Michael Clayton and tight end Jerramy Stevens all increased their chances of making the team. Warren was later carted off with a dislocated ankle. Stevens had three receptions for 45 yards, Clayton had two receptions for 25 yards and Graham rushed for 23 yards on five carries and had two receptions for 32 yards on the Bucs’ first two scoring drives. With running back Michael Pittman moving to fullback, Graham should get some more playing time to find out if he can shed the “Mr. August” label. Graham has never received a real shot during the regular season to show what he can do so this is the perfect opportunity for the Bucs to finally give Graham his shot. Clayton, who was allegedly on the trading block, has all the motivation he needs to make this team. Clayton took advantage of his opportunity against the Texans and has made enough of a case to stick around for one more season. Stevens isn’t so much on the chopping blocks when it comes to cuts, but has made little noise during the preseason. Stevens has more athleticism than tight end Anthony Becht and would make a good complement for tight Alex Smith. The Bucs need more plays from Stevens to take some pressure off of Smith.”
“The run blocking, even though it was the second team offensive line, was less than stellar for another preseason game. On true running plays – disregarding reverse plays to wide receivers – the Bucs had 19 carries for 68 yards and the longest run from scrimmage was by running back Lionel Gates, which was an 11-yard carry. Most people will say that the reason for the lack of a running attack against the Texans was because it was the second team, but a couple of the offensive linemen that played on Thursday could be thrust into action in the very near future. Both guard Arron Sears and tackle Jeremy Trueblood’s health is in question with the regular season a little more than a week away. If Trueblood and Sears can’t answer the bell against Seattle, guard Anthony Davis and tackle Donald Penn will be there to fill in. Penn struggled with his pass blocking on Thursday and will be forced to move from left tackle, where he normally plays, to right tackle. The run blocking from the starters has been average at best this preseason and Cadillac Williams isn’t the kind of running back – Barry Sanders and Walter Payton – that can make something out of nothing or make an average line look better than what they are. The pass blocking has improved, but if the run blocking isn’t there, the Bucs are going to have to sweat out a lot of fourth quarters this season, which is when head coach Jon Gruden loves to run the ball with a lead.”
“What seemed to be a lock for quarterback Luke McCown a couple of weeks ago has now become an all-out battle for the No. 2 spot with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. For the last three preseason games, both quarterbacks have equaled each other in performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans. McCown impressed again in getting the start against the Texans going 15-for-20 for 203 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. However, Gradkowski was also impressive going 13-for-20 for 141 yards and one touchdown. Gradkowski has led two come-from-behind drives in the fourth quarter to supply victories for the Bucs. So how will Jon Gruden determine who will be his backup quarterback in 2007? One way to do that is to look at the NFL experience of both quarterbacks, where Gradkowski holds the experience factor with 11 starts in Tampa Bay compared to McCown’s four starts in Cleveland. Gradkowski is an accurate passer when it comes to the short to intermediate routes, which is what most of the pass plays in the West Coast offense call for. However, if the Bucs need to stretch the field, Gradkowski hasn’t shown the touch on the deep route. McCown has the arm to stretch a defense, but has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long as evident in the Miami game last week. McCown also likes to lock on to one receiver once the ball is snapped, which is the worst tendency a quarterback in the NFL can have. The players seem to react to Gradkowski when he’s in the huddle and make plays for him when they are needed. McCown or Gradkowski, Gradkowski or McCown? They have both been successful in the preseason, but have made mistakes that make Bucs fans cringe. Gruden has a tough decision, but either candidate is worthy of capturing the No. 2 spot.”
“Even though the running game showed little flash, Gruden’s offense was on full display with the passing game against the Texans. McCown and Gradkowski combined to go 28-for-40 for 344 yards and four touchdowns. The most impressive stat of the game, however, was that 11 different receivers caught a pass in the 31-24 victory over the Texans. Wide receiver Paris Warren and tight end Jerramy Stevens were the most popular targets in the game with seven receptions apiece. The stat that showed the offense was clicking on all cylinders was that four different running backs caught a pass as well. Gruden has always wanted his running backs to be a threat out of the backfield, but hasn’t been able to work his running backs out of the backfield as much as he would like in the last couple of seasons in Tampa Bay. Gruden, along with other disciples of the West Coast offense, will use short dump passes out of the backfield almost as a running game if the traditional way isn’t working. The passing game has steadily improved over the preseason and is ready to put points on the board for Gruden. Now if only the running game could catch up, the Bucs will be able to use long, time-consuming drives and then let their swarming, aggressive defense do what they do best.”
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