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Publisher Scott Reynolds
“Don’t listen to those folks that say, ‘Might as well start Josh Freeman this season’ because of the uninspiring preseason performances from Byron Leftwich, who got the starting nod against Dallas, and Luke McCown, who is the team's backup QB. Freeman is clearly not ready to face NFL starters and trotting him out to start too early in his NFL career could have a devastating effect that could set back his development or ruin him. I think Freeman has the chance to be a damn good pro quarterback in time, but he is what he is – an inaccurate, 21-year old passer who left K-State a year early. At no point this summer was Freeman groomed to be the starter. He received third-string reps during training camp and got very little work with the team’s starters. Why on earth would anyone want to see Freeman start on opening day when he has not even played against NFL starters in the preseason? Even surrounded by supposedly inferior talent in the second half of preseason games, you would expect the talent from a first-round quarterback like Freeman to elevate above the fray. That clearly didn’t happen during the preseason. Compare what Freeman did against second- and third-team defenses to what Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez did in the preseason against starting defenses and there’s no comparison. The truth is that right now, Freeman may be the fourth-best quarterback on this team behind Josh Johnson – perhaps not in talent, but in preseason production. Freeman finished the game completing 7-of-17 passes (41.1 percent) for 85 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He finished the preseason completing 22-of-49 passes (44.8 percent) for 238 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions and a QB rating of 41. By comparison, Johnson finished the preseason completing 17-of-30 passes (56.6 percent) for 218 yards with one touchdown and one pick and a QB rating of 76.8 Both young signal callers have promise and potential – which can be both exciting and scary terms to describe NFL quarterbacks. The Bucs would be wise to stick with their plan of sitting Freeman in 2009 and play him when he’s ready to start rather than force him into the lineup at some point in time this year and risk ruining his career. That approach has certainly worked for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and just might work for Freeman.”
“Don’t read too much into Greg Olson’s play-calling against Houston. Yes, it was his first game as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator, but the Bucs were still in talent evaluation mode with roster cuts coming on Saturday. Olson had to call certain plays to give the team’s scouts and coaches a chance to see certain players doing certain things. Besides, the Bucs were still in operating under a vanilla play-calling scheme, not wanting to show anything for Dallas. I asked several of the team’s veteran offensive players about having Olson as Tampa Bay’s new play-caller now that Jeff Jagodzinski has been fired and they all seemed surprisingly unfazed by the move and supported the decision. For all of the talk of this team being in chaos in the local newspapers, it certainly doesn’t seem that way inside the Bucs locker room.”
“The Bucs are holding their breath that the knee injury to rookie left tackle Xavier Fulton isn’t to bad. Fulton, Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick this year, had made the team and was slated to be the Bucs’ backup left tackle this season behind Donald Penn. Pewter Report had gotten wind that Fulton would be making the team and even made him the subject of the “In The Lab feature” of the September issue. If Fulton is lost for an extended period of time, the Bucs will be scrambling to find a suitable backup for Penn. James Lee had a disappointing preseason and a horrible game against the Texans. He’s better suited to play guard than left tackle at the NFL level and is not an ideal replacement for Fulton, who was seen on crutches after the game. The Bucs may have to use left guard Jeremy Zuttah as Penn’s backup as a fallback option. Zuttah started at left tackle against Houston and that may be a precursor of what is to come if Penn sustains an injury during the season. Having Zuttah play left tackle would cause an upheaval on the offensive line as the Bucs are just as weak at guard as they are at tackle, and there is no clear front-runner at guard to replace Zuttah if he has to replace Penn.”
“Tampa Bay’s safeties have now been victimized for touchdowns while playing Cover 2 defense on three occasions in the preseason. The first came in the preseason opener when Donte Nicholson lost track of rookie receiver Kenny Britt in the end zone at Tennessee. In Week 2 at Jacksonville, Sabby Piscitelli got burned for a 74-yard touchdown by wide receiver Troy Williamson on the first play of the game. Friday night against Houston on Rex Grossman’s first pass attempt, Tanard Jackson got beat by receiver Jacoby Jones while playing Cover 2 on an 87-yard touchdown catch that gave the Texans a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter. While it is distressing that these three big touchdowns came against what used to be a staple coverage that the Bucs ran during the Monte Kiffin era before switching to more of a bump-and-run under Jim Bates, the fact that the culprits were both Jackson and Piscitelli, who are slated to be the team’s starting safeties, is cause for real concern. After the game, I asked head coach Raheem Morris about the lapses in Cover 2 and he indicated that the Bucs would have to get that corrected quickly because the NFL is a copycat league and Dallas is probably installing what he calls the “Joe Horn route” in the Tampa Bay game plan for the season opener. That’s the seam route that Piscitelli and Jackson were both victimized on. Bates and defensive backs coach Joe Baker better be prepping the secondary for the “Joe Horn route” and laying off of the Cover 2 against Dallas.”
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
"Bucs offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah was a versatile player at Rutgers, and he's proving to be the same type of player at the NFL level. Zuttah, who was a third-round pick in 2008, surprisingly started at left tackle in place of Donald Penn on Friday night. He will start at left guard for the Bucs this year, but has also taken a significant amount of practice reps at center. This was the first time Zuttah played left tackle in a game for the Bucs, but you wouldn't have known it by watching him. Zuttah played three series, and did an impressive job in pass protection on rookie quarterback Josh Freeman's 11 pass attempts. Zuttah didn't face Texans Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams, but did go up against a legitimate opponent in DE Connor Barwin, and second-round pick out of Cincinnati. After watching him play Friday night, the Bucs should feel better about playing Zuttah at left tackle in a pinch if they're ever put in that position due to injury."
"Was anyone else scratching their head when Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said he had to go back to One Buc Place and talk to general manager Mark Dominik and special teams coach Richard Bisaccia before making a decision on who his starting kicker would be in 2009? What decision is there to make? Mike Nugent kicked. Matt Bryant didn't. Nugent, who entered the preseason finale 4-of-7 on field goal attempts, was 2-of-2 vs. the Texans to finish the preseason 6-of-9 (66.6 percent). Bryant was limited in training camp and missed the entire preseason due to a hamstring injury, and no one even knows when he will be ready to kick again. Morris said after Friday night's game that he had some tough decisions to make in terms of trimming his roster from 75 to 53 players. This decision shouldn't be one of those. Unfortunately, Bryant's ailment makes it a pretty easy one to make."
"If I'm the Bucs I am keeping Josh Johnson as a fourth quarterback again this year. Not because I think Johnson, who completed 12-of-21 passes for 182 yards and tossed one touchdowns and one interception vs. the Texans, can help the Bucs this year, but because the former fifth-round pick has some long-term potential based on what we've seen him do in some limited playing time in training camp and preseason. Odds are that either Byron Leftwich or Luke McCown won't be back in 2010 even though they each have two-year contracts. It would be a shame for the Bucs to part ways with Johnson just to have him catch on with another team and go on to have success elsewhere. The Bucs are in a rebuilding year, and Johnson could become a valuable player down the road. He's worth keeping around, but the question is will the Bucs choose to do that?"
"One of the biggest disappointments of Tampa Bay's 2009 preseason was the play of the quarterbacks. Not just one – all of them. But it's not like Bucs general manager Mark Dominik opted to neglect the QB position. He did, after all, re-sign QB Luke McCown, ink Byron Leftwich in free agency and invest a first-round pick QB Josh Freeman. Was anyone else wondering whether the Bucs made a potential mistake in passing up QB Rex Grossman in free agency while watching the game tonight? While the former first-round pick has had an inconsistent career, Grossman looked quite good vs. the Bucs, completing 9-of-16 passes for 197 yards and tossing two touchdowns and no interceptions for a QB rating of 139.8. Tampa Bay's offense is run-oriented in nature, but the passing game calls for the quarterbacks to play-action and stretch the field with deep passes, which is one of Grossman's strengths. One can only wonder if Grossman might have given Tampa Bay better play at the QB position."
Beat Writer Charlie Campbell
"The Buccaneers passing offense had their best performance of the preseason under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and without the benefit of their starters and veteran backups. The Bucs totaled 263 net yards passing against Houston, and that was a substantial increase over the previous outputs. Against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 of the preseason, Tampa Bay managed just 122 yards. The following week against the Jaguars the Bucs totaled 182 yards, and in Week 3 against the Dolphins the Buccaneers put up 160 yards. Not only were they able to break 200 yards through the air, it was also the first game where multiple quarterbacks threw touchdown passes. Byron Leftwich tossed the only touchdown against the Titans, and Luke McCown had two scores at Jacksonville. None of the quarterbacks got in the end zone against Miami. Thus, it was encouraging for both Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson to get touchdown passes in the preseason. Both had impressive touchdown runs in previous games, but in the regular season you can't expect your quarterback to break off long touchdown runs. With the quarterback play struggling with consistency, and the Bucs changing offensive coordinators on the eve of their final preseason game, it looks like a major step in the right direction that they were able to produce their best game through the air thus far."
"Another aspect of the offense that was improved in the final preseason game was the Buccaneers production on third down. Entering the contest with the Texans, the Bucs were only 18-of-49 (37 percent) on third downs in the preseason. Against Houston, the team managed to go 5-of-12 (42 percent). Tampa Bay picked up first downs on the ground and through the air. Plus, one of the third down conversions was Freeman's touchdown pass to Cortez Hankton on third-and-8. In down-and-distance situations like that last year, Bucs fans got used to short dump off passes that would protect a field goal. Not throwing to the end zone on third down when the team was in striking distance was a catalyst for Tampa Bay being one of the worst red zone offenses in the NFL, and leaving a lot of points on the field. Last season Olson was one of the voices inside the organization advocating for more throws into the end zone, so expect the Bucs to be aggressive when they are inside the opponent's 30-yard line."
"There are many hard decisions to be made in the following hours at One Buc Place. Deciding which players to cut and which players to retain is never an easy decision. With so much young talent fighting for roster spots it will be difficult to choose which players are worth the spots to develop for the future. One position that figures to have some debate is defensive end. Left defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, right defensive end Gaines Adams, and backup end Kyle Moore are locks to make the team. Behind those two the Buccaneers have to decide between end Stylez White and Louis Holmes. White flashed early in the preseason, and had a great 2007 season for Tampa Bay. At the same time he has his detractors at One Buc Place, and Morris has publically acknowledged that White was in his doghouse. Morris wanted to see White practice better, and showcase his playmaking skills during the week. Competing with White for a roster spot is Louis Holmes, the lone defensive lineman signed in free agency. Holmes was a target of general manager Mark Dominik, who has made a habit of grabbing unknown players from other teams and getting a lot out of them (see Wilkerson and left tackle Donald Penn). While he had some bad plays against the Texans, Holmes finished the preseason as one of the Bucs most consistent pass rushers. He is blessed with good physical tools, and his teammates have told Pewter Report that he is a determined man that is underrated. Tampa Bay has struggled with getting to the quarterback in recent seasons, so it would be hard to see the team cut a young developmental prospect like Holmes, or a proven pass rusher like White. Holmes is eligible for the practice squad, so perhaps the Bucs can retain him there. However, Holmes has put his pass rushing skills on tape for the whole league to see, and keeping him off another NFL roster may be a challenge. Ideally the numbers would shake out where Holmes and White could make the final cut, but that remains to be seen."
"Moore was an honorable mention in the five most impressive, and he deserves some kudos for finishing off his solid preseason with another strong game. The rookie defensive end had a sack, a tackle for a loss, two quarterback knockdowns, and two tackles against Houston. He was close to getting sacks on other rushes, and took up residence in the Texans backfield. The only other defender to register a hit on the quarterback was White. Moore was fairly quiet through training camp, but really picked up his play in the preseason games. With his confidence growing and his versatility as a defensive end that plays tackle on third downs, the Bucs look like they have a valuable rookie reserve that they can rotate in the lineup and can rely on to produce."