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Here is a touchdown's worth of points that may interest Bucs fans prior to the organized team activities and mini-camp in June.
Williams' Supposed Big Numbers
According to team sources, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams was robbed of a big year by his torn patellar tendon. Sources have told Pewter Report, that the Buccaneers believe that if Cadillac had not gotten hurt in Week 4 against Carolina, the third-year running back would have had a season with rushing totals in the 1,200- to 1,300-yard range. Eventually, the Buccaneers turned to Earnest Graham as their primary ball carrier, with some attempts also going to Michael Pittman and Michael Bennett. Below are the carries totals for the three backs that rushed the ball instead of Williams.
The three running backs totaled 331 rushing attempts last season. Obviously Williams would not have gotten all of those attempts, but it is conceivable that he would have been handed the ball between 200 and 300 times given his status as the starter. If Williams had 250 rushing attempts at 4.2 yards per carry added to his four game totals, he would have produced a good year. For the season, Williams would have totaled 1,258 yards on 304 carries with an average of 4.1 yards per carry.
Williams averaged 3.9 yards per carry in his four games, and it is not a stretch to think that he would have upped that average to slightly over four yards during the course of the season. After his injury, the Buccaneers had big running games against Detroit, Arizona, and two contests against Atlanta. Williams has also proven that he runs better with more attempts, and as the season went on the Buccaneers offensive line excelled at opening up holes for the running backs.
Sources have told Pewter Report that they believe when Earnest Graham was tackled in the course of runs of 10+ and 20+ yards, Williams would have made those runs 30+, 40+, or broken them for touchdowns due to him having more speed than Graham (and no, this commentary from team sources has nothing to do with Graham's current hold out as it was relayed to Pewter Report prior to the start of OTAs). Williams had three touchdowns in four games. At that rate he would have had 12 touchdowns for the season. Graham finished with 10 scores last year.
With sources indicating that the Buccaneers believe Cadillac would have had a big season, it is easier to see why the team is committed to him bouncing back and contributing next season.
Why Did The Bucs Trade For Griese?
It is interesting how the Buccaneers have come full circle on a few situations. Running back Warrick Dunn could be forcing out another Florida Gator running back that wants a big contract – Graham. This coming in the heels of Dunn doing the same thing to Errict Rhett over a decade ago.
Once again, quarterback Brian Griese could be the team's insurance in case a young quarterback does not pan out. The Bucs traded for Griese to have insurance in case quarterback Luke McCown is not ready to take over as the starting quarterback if starter Jeff Garcia is injured.
The Buccaneers are giving McCown the opportunity to prove that he is the quarterback of the future in Tampa Bay. Sources have told Pewter Report, if the Bucs did not believe that McCown has the ability to be that player, they would have drafted Chad Henne or Brian Brohm in the second round.
While the team thinks McCown could be their future, they wanted insurance in case he proves otherwise. Griese was traded to be the safeguard that he was in his first stint in Tampa Bay.
Prior to the 2005 season, the Buccaneers re-signed Griese in case Chris Simms could not solidify the quarterback situation. Simms poor performance in the 2004 season finale against the Arizona Cardinals led to Tampa Bay feeling compelled to have Griese back for the next season.
Now in 2008, Griese has returned to be insurance if McCown is unable produce at quarterback. McCown had the Bucs in position to win in games against the 49ers and Panthers in the last two games of the season. However, the team lost those games and McCown had a few bad plays that hurt the team. Now McCown and Griese will compete in training camp to earn the backup quarterback spot.
Griese and McCown combine to help Tampa Bay avoid a scenario like they had in 2006. When the starter and backup were lost for the season, Simms and McCown respectively, the Bucs turned to rookie Bruce Gradkowski. This year if the starter and backup were lost for the season, the team would be turning to either Griese or McCown (whoever loses the battle to be the backup in training camp), and not rookie Josh Johnson.
With the drafting of Johnson, Tampa Bay's plan is to keep four quarterbacks on the active roster in 2008 – Garcia, McCown, Griese and the rookie. The only real drama in training camp will be who wins the backup job job behind Garcia – McCown or Griese.
Haye At It Again
At last week's organized team activity at Raymond James Stadium, defensive tackle Jovan Haye was up to his old tricks. Once again, the Buccaneers defense forced a fumble, and not surprisingly, Haye pounced on the ball to seal the turnover. This time the victim was running back Michael Bennett.
On the play, Bennett took a pitch around the corner and turned up field. Bennett had a nice gain, and was between five and 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. However, the defensive tackles were hustling after the ballcarrier. Chris Hovan laid out and punched the pigskin from Bennett's hands and Haye dove on the loose ball.
Last year, the Bucs led the NFL in forced fumbles with 27, and Haye recovered four of those. While many people feel that recovering fumbles is pure luck, that is not always the case. Not only do fumble recoveries take skill, but they also indicate a key attribute for defensive players.
Fumble recoveries are proof that a player is around the ball. Whether downfield or at the line scrimmage, if a player has a high number of fumble recoveries then it is clear that they are part of making tackles and turnovers.
In many football games, fans see defensive players trying to dive on a loose ball only to see the ball squirt away to be recovered by somebody else. There is technique in handling a loose ball, and Haye has proven to be exceptional at that. Haye isn't the only Buccaneer with that skill, linebacker Barrett Ruud forced three fumbles and recovered three fumbles last season.
If The Season Goes Badly, Phillips Could Be Traded
While many people think that the NFL is a no-trade league once the season starts, Bruce Allen has been the master of deadline deals. In 2005, he traded for quarterback Tim Rattay. In 2006, he traded defensive tackle Anthony McFarland to the Indianapolis Colts for a second-round pick. Then last year, he traded a sixth-round pick for running back Michael Bennett. If the trend continues, Allen will be dealing again in late October.
Hopefully for the Bucs and their fans, they will be trading for a veteran to help them with a playoff push like they did in 2005 and 2007. If the Buccaneers start off the season with a string of losses, the team could look to deal some players for draft picks like they did in 2006.
The player that may be the most likely target for that scenario is safety Jermaine Phillips. After the 2008 season, Phillips' contract with the Bucs runs out, and the team is not believed to be interested in re-signing him due to the presence of young talented safety Sabby Piscitelli, who was a second-round pick in 2007.
Some might argue for trading Phillips while the Buccaneers can get something for him, but the team is trying to make a push for the Super Bowl in 2008 after being the surprise team in the NFC, winning the South championship.
Last season, the story of the team was the great depth that the team drew on to win its third NFC South division title. If Phillips were traded, the Buccaneers would have little proven safety depth behind Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson. When Jackson went out against the Giants in last season's playoff loss, Kalvin Pearson filled in with Piscitelli already on injured reserve.
If Phillips were traded prior to the season the Buccaneers would be without two of their top four safeties from last season. If Piscitelli replaced Phillips, who had been traded away, only Will Allen would be there for proven depth and that would leave Tampa Bay exposed at the safety position on the depth chart.
Bucs Could Miss Pearson
Sources have told Pewter Report that the Buccaneers are going to miss Pearson. Not only was he a big contributor on special teams, but Pearson was a valuable member of the secondary. Pearson had the ability to play three positions: strong safety, free safety, and nickel corner. The Buccaneers love players with position flexibility, and having a player like that in the secondary is rare.
Tampa Bay may have found a player with that flexibility in Eugene Wilson. The new Buc may be able to play corner and both safety positions. Wilson played safety for the Patriots, but so far is practicing exclusively at corner for the Buccaneers. It remains to be seen whether he will be cross-trained at safety.
The locker room will miss Pearson as well. He brought a lot of energy and was a good teammate. Pearson was also a fantastic practice player. With the amount of cap room that Tampa Bay has it is somewhat surprising that they did not re-sign Pearson. It seems they weren't willing to pay a backup safety what the Detroit Lions were willing to give in compensation. The Lions also may present a better opportunity for Pearson to see snaps on defense.
On draft weekend, Pearson was arrested for an alleged altercation with a woman. Some sources believe that Pearson is innocent of a crime and was trying to break up an escalating situation between a couple of friends. There is the belief by some that Pearson will be exonerated of any wrongdoing.
Fortunately for Pearson, he signed his new contract before the event took place. Even if he were to be cleared in the altercation, teams would be less willing to commit to Pearson, a career backup on defense, due to a character concern. Reserve players like Pearson can't afford to have character red flags when they hit free agency.
Bucs Could Still Re-Sign Stevens
Speaking of character concerns, tight end Jerramy Stevens remains a free agent. In his latest SR's Fab 5, Pewter Report Publisher Scott Reynolds revealed that head coach Jon Gruden has been privately upset that general manager Bruce Allen did not re-sign Stevens. Tampa Bay did sign receiving tight end Ben Troupe, but he looked rusty at the last OTA, dropping a wide-open pass downfield during the team scrimmage and not getting a lot of separation.
Reynolds also explained some of the mismatches that Stevens provides that Troupe does not. It seems unlikely that Stevens' days as Buc will resume. But if Stevens remains unsigned, the Buccaneers could re-sign him if they have an injury in training camp.
Signing Stevens once the action of the season starts – if Tampa Bay has an injury and really needs him – could lessen the public relations criticism for signing the big athletic tight end with the troubled past. Then the team could argue that he knew the system, was productive, stayed out of trouble in 2007 – and all character issues aside – they had to sign Stevens.
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