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Publisher Scott Reynolds
"Yes, Michael Bennett has rushed for 131 yards on 27 carries (4.85 avg.) with one touchdown, and has hauled in a team-high five catches for 29 yards this preseason, but his stats aren't telling the whole story. Last week against Miami, I pointed out how hard Bennett was running between the tackles, which is something he was doing against New England, too. But what was very impressive on Sunday night was how well Bennett picked up the blitz in pass protection versus the Patriots. That was the one element of Bennett's game that was missing last season and that was a big factor as to why head coach Jon Gruden didn't play the 5-foot-9, 205-pound halfback more often in 2007. He simply didn't trust Bennett in pass protection situations. Not only is Bennett proving to be a reliable receiver, a big-play runner and a back capable of grinding out the tough yards between the tackles this preseason, but he is also showing Gruden that he can be counted on to protect the quarterback in passing situations. The trust Bennett is developing with Gruden in the 2008 preseason will only mean more opportunities come the regular season."
"I saw inspired play from starting under tackle Ryan Sims tonight. After recording one tackle last week against Miami, Sims came alive after the Patriots' first possession on Sunday night. Something got Sims fired up in the second quarter as he recorded a pair of tackles for loss against Laurence Maroney, dropping the former first-round pick for minus-2 and minus-3 yards. Despite limited playing time over the final eight games of the 2007 season, Sims led the Bucs with four tackles for loss. On Sunday night, he continued that style of aggressive play and led the team in that category. When Jovan Haye returns from his groin strain he will return to the starting lineup because he is a better pass rusher than Sims. But Sims is making the most of his reps and will be pushing for more playing time when the season starts."
"You could tell the Buccaneers were really fired up to play the New England Patriots, who were fresh off an 18-1 season a year ago in addition to a Super Bowl berth, tonight. The fact that the game was nationally televised on NFL Network also got the Bucs' blood pumping. You could see it in the way Tampa Bay came out and quickly took control of the game in the first quarter on offense and defense. The end result was not only a 27-10 Bucs victory, but a 37:58 to 22:02 time of possession advantage against the Patriots. Tampa Bay converted 50 percent of its third down conversions against New England, while holding the Patriots to just 27 percent (3-of-11) on third downs. Through two games, the Bucs have converted 18-of-34 (52.9 percent) third downs on offense, while holding teams to just 30.4 percent (7-of-23) on defense. That is inspired, efficient play from both sides of the ball. If these types of numbers persist, the Bucs will win a lot of games in 2008."
"Tampa Bay's rookie class is shaping up to be a good one, but it isn't the high-round picks that impressed me on Sunday night. Running back Clifton Smith opened my eyes on special teams tonight with his relentless play in recording two tackles. That, along with his 30-yard punt return last week against Miami, and his 20 yards rushing on four carries against New England has been quite impressive for an undrafted free agent. Rookie linebacker Geno Hayes, Tampa Bay's sixth-round pick, plays with a high motor and hits extremely hard. He made two forceful tackles against the Patriots on Sunday night. The Bucs really have to consider making room for undrafted free agent cornerback Elbert Mack on the 53-man roster. Mack has outplayed the likes of Sammy Davis and Marcus Hamilton thus summer and came up big with three big tackles, one pass defensed and one interception. Rookies like Aqib Talib, Dexter Jackson and Jeremy Zuttah may have gotten more attention from the media throughout training camp, but it was the players at the bottom of the rookie totem pole that stood out against New England."
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn "Bucs running back Michael Bennett, who carried the ball eight times for 57 yards vs. the Patriots, is proving to be a player Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will have to feed the ball to during the regular season. In two preseason contests, Bennett has rushed 27 times for 131 yards (4.8 avg.) and one touchdown. Those are feature-back type numbers, but you have to take it for what it's worth at this point since it's the preseason. Still, Bennett is proving that he's much more than a track runner. He's been a pile mover and playmaker, evidenced by his 23-yard run vs. the New England Patriots on Sunday night. While Earnest Graham will be Tampa Bay's feature back, Bennett could steal some of Graham's reps and limit RB Warrick Dunn's role to the passing game in the regular season."
"It's still early, but Tampa Bay's defense appears poised to build on its success from the 2007 season when it ranked No. 2 overall in the NFL. In two games, the Bucs have allowed just 16 points, and neither the Dolphins nor the Patriots managed to produce over 200 yards of offense, finishing each game with 198 and 174 total yards, respectively. Tampa Bay did not allow an offensive touchdown in the preseason until the fourth quarter of Sunday night's game. In addition, the Bucs have held thief first two opponents to 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) on third down attempts. While it was disappointing to see the Bucs get held without a sack vs. the Patriots, Tampa Bay's defense came up huge in the turnover department tonight, forcing two fumbles and recovering both of them, including safety Sabby Piscitelli's scoop and 24-yard score in the third quarter. Tampa Bay also came up with an interception thanks to cornerback Elbert Mack. Those are the types of plays that the Bucs defense will need to make a serious push at the Super Bowl this year. So far, so good for Monte Kiffin's defense."
"There still are two preseason games remaining on Tampa Bay's schedule, but Brian Griese would have to suffer an epic meltdown in order to not be the team's No. 2 signal caller when the regular season starts in September. Griese completed 9-of-10 (90 percent) of his passes for 44 yards vs. the Patriots on Sunday night. Griese, who started in place of the injured Garcia (calf), might be Captain Check-down, but he has also been smart with the ball and effective in terms of managing and moving the offense. In two games, Griese has engineered two scoring drives that consisted of 17 and 19 plays, respectively. He has also completed 19-of-24 (79.1 percent) passes this preseason. Griese's competition, Luke McCown, completed 9-of-15 passes for 70 yards vs. the Patriots. He has completed 16-of-25 (64 percent) of his passes through the first half of the preseason. As long as Griese continues to move the offense and play turnover free football, he will be Jeff Garcia's backup come Week 1."
"It was nice to see Bucs kicker Matt Bryant rebound from his disappointing outing vs. the Dolphins. The last thing Tampa Bay needs is for Bryant to have a Martin Gramatica-type meltdown. Bryant went just 1-of-3 in the preseason opener, but he rebounded on Sunday night by drilling two field goals from 23 and 34 yards away. Bryant, who turned in an outstanding training camp, is now 3-of-5 field goal attempts through two games."
"In case you didn't notice, Bucs defensive end Kevin Carter made his debut at tight end vs. the Patriots on Sunday night. He checked in as an eligible receiver and blocked on running back Earnest Graham's 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Carter's block took place on the opposite side of Graham's TD run."
Beat Writer Writer Charlie Campbell
"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers outplayed their competition for the second straight preseason game, this time in more impressive fashion. The one number thing that stood out to this Pewter Reporter was the domination by the first team offensive line. In past games, the Bucs offensive line has struggled against 3-4 defenses at times. The variety in blitzes and the different types of pass rushers seemed to cause mismatches for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay picked up the Patriots blitzes well, and the first two quarterbacks, Brian Griese and Luke McCown, had great time to pass the ball. McCown held onto the ball and scrambled on a few occasions, but neither of the first two quarterbacks was sacked. The comfort and time given to the quarterbacks was apparent in their completing 15 of 17 pass attempts.
"The starting offensive line played the first half and set the tempo for the Bucs to gain 16 first downs. The offense generated 234 total yards in the first half on 36 plays. The starting line certainly got the job done in run blocking with 114 yards rushing in the first half. The Bucs had particular success running to the right side behind guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Guard Arron Sears and center Jeff Faine did a good job of pulling and getting downfield on their blocks. Running back Michael Bennett had some big running lanes to go through and he finished his runs well. If the Bucs offensive line maintains that level of play it will be the strength that people are projecting it to be.
"Fortunately for the Buccaneers passing game, they have another big play threat at the wide receiver position. Antonio Bryant flashed at times during training camp, but was not dominating practice. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden named Bryant as a receiver that was stepping up his game at the end of training camp, and Bryant proved Gruden right against the Patriots. After his big game against New England, Bryant is in position to push to start opposite Galloway, and allow veteran Ike Hilliard to used more effectively and sparingly over the course of the season. Bryant illustrated the talent he brings to the position with a combination of speed and physicality. At this point, Bryant looks to be in position to make the team and be one of the top three receivers on the depth chart.
"Quarterback Luke McCown looked more comfortable against the Patriots then he did against the Dolphins. McCown appeared to make better decisions as he did not take a sack or throw any near interceptions. One thing that appeals to many about McCown's game is that he looks to push the field. Some quarterbacks are extremely quick to go to the check down receiver. McCown surveys the field and looks to get the ball to his targets downfield. When they are covered is when McCown has gotten into trouble by not getting the ball out sooner. Against New England, McCown looked downfield and took advantage of the time to throw the ball. When the pass rush came he went to the check down and continued to move the ball. In three drives, McCown produced ten points, and threw the only touchdown pass from Bucs quarterbacks. McCown points came in the first half in his first two series against the Patriots starters. Griese produced points in one of his two series.
"McCown also used his athletic ability more against New England then he did against Miami. He scrambled, bought time, and took off for a four-yard run when nothing was open. At this time it appears that Griese is in the driver's seat to be the Bucs backup quarterback, but McCown is staying in the battle with the veteran."
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