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1. WILKERSON IMPRESSES In the first half of the win against the Bears, the Bucs pass rush was very effective. The second half was not as productive, but one player's play stayed consistent throughout the game. Leading the way for the pressure on Bears quarterback Kyle Orton was Bucs defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson. Rushing from under tackle and defensive end, Wilkerson totaled five combined knockdowns and pressures. That was some serious pass rush. Getting a sack is only one play, but Wilkerson led the way to positive plays for the defense on five occasions.
Wilkerson was underutilized by Kansas City in his first five seasons in the NFL, but that is not the case in Tampa Bay. Lining up at defensive tackle and defensive end, Wilkerson is one of two Bucs defensive linemen that can play both. Kevin Carter is the other, but Carter has been exclusively at left end this season. After not producing big numbers with the Chiefs, Wilkerson pinpointed what has made the difference for him in Tampa Bay.
"Basically, my speed," said Wilkerson. "I've been working hard in the offseason and in training camp to get faster. When I line up on the edge, then I can beat them with inside moves. Then I can work from that during the game, and I was pretty pleased with it. I feel really comfortable at both (end and tackle). I've been playing tackle and end my whole career. It basically comes natural to me now. I think it is getting the opportunity and just having more fun. I've told a couple of the guys that when I first got here, I felt like I was a rookie all over again. I'm just having a lot of fun."
On the Bears' third drive on third down, Wilkerson rushed from under tackle and caused Orton to scramble into the path of defensive end Greg White for a sack. A few drives later, Wilkerson pressured Orton with defensive end Kevin Carter to force an incompletion. The first drive of the second half was much of the same. Wilkerson hurried Orton to force an incompletion on third-and-5.
In the first possession of the fourth quarter on a critical drive, Wilkerson got pressure on back-to-back plays. On the first play, Wilkerson pressured Orton out of the pocket and he was pursued by defensive tackle Chris Hovan. That caused Orton to throw the ball away. Then on third down, Wilkerson hurried Orton and knocked him down. The Bears were unable to convert a first down and their drive ended in a missed field goal by Robbie Gould.
When Wilkerson has rushed from the inside he has been at the under tackle spot.
"I was at three-technique the whole time," said Wilkerson. "They want bigger guys in there at nose. Ryan Sims, Jovan Haye, and Chris Hovan in there so they can take the double team and have me try to get on the edge."
Right now, Wilkerson has produced the most pass rush from the under tackle spot – more than starting under tackle Jovan Haye. Nose tackle Ryan Sims has also done a good job of pushing the pocket and supplying a pass rush. In passing situations, the most productive group thus far has been Gaines Adams (left end), Sims (nose tackle), Wilkerson (under tackle), and White (right end).
2. FREE AGENT RECAP Coming off a division championship in 2007, Tampa Bay was fairly active in free agency. Now that the regular season is under way, it's interesting to see how the new Buccaneers are making an impact on the 2008 season. C Jeff Faine– Elected a captain, starting, producing as well or better than expected.
RB Warrick Dunn– Playing well and has been a good signing.
TE John Gilmore– Has been a good player and will be a big part of the team.
TE Ben Troupe– Released, disappointed, and is now playing for Oakland.
WR Antonio Bryant– Has slowly come on and is looking like he was worth the chance.
DE Marques Douglas– Bad fit for the Bucs defense, traded to Baltimore.
DLE/DT Jimmy Wilkerson– A real contributor that could play a vital role this year.
LB Teddy Lehman– Cut before training camp.
LB Matt McCoy– Earned a place on the team as a backup middle linebacker.
CB Eugene Wilson– Released, beaten out by an undrafted rookie, now playing for Houston.
Obviously, the offensive free agents have had a much bigger impact, but that is not necessarily an indictment on the team's defensive signings. Last year, Tampa Bay had the second ranked defense in the NFL and was the first-ranked pass defense. With last year's starters all returning, it would be a challenge for free agents to come in and make a big impression on the field and on the depth chart.
Many fans have been critical that the Bucs did not make a major offensive acquisition. While the need for big-play threats remains, and with the exception of Troupe, the Buccaneers' new players on offense have all been big contributors and have made the Tampa Bay offense better.
3. THE GARCIA SENTIMENT Buccaneers quarterback Brian Griese has taken the starting job with a fair amount of criticism going to his head coach, Jon Gruden, for playing Griese over last year's starter Jeff Garcia. There have been critics of the decision on TV pre- and post-game shows, in print, and on the radio.
While Garcia deserves credit and admiration for what he was able to do through the first three quarters of the season last year, times have changed. Benching him in favor of Griese was exactly the right decision. Despite what some in the media will lead you to believe, the decision to switch quarterbacks was not a quick one.
Sources have told Pewter Report that Garcia was probably going to get a contract extension, but his public griping about the situation negatively impacted the negotiations. The sides were far apart on a deal, but the belief was that a new contract was going to get done. At very beginning of the organized team activities, Garcia went public with his contract frustrations.
As the OTAs progressed, Pewter Report noticed that Garcia did not look as effective. His arm looked weaker, and he did not look as accurate as he was during the 2007 season. With Garcia appearing to be regressing in his play and speaking critically about his contract, the contract extension talks continued to decline.
In training camp, Garcia's play was consistent with what happened in the OTAs. He also missed the majority of training camp with a calf injury that resulted in him being out of sync with the rest of the offense when he came back. All of that contributed to Griese quickly surpassing Garcia in terms of production. The Brett Favre rumors were upsetting to Garcia privately, and contributed to the mental slump that was starting to build.
Garcia played poorly in his only preseason game while Griese excelled, and as the regular season quickly approached, the sources told Pewter Report that Garcia was behind and they were working with him to try and get him up to speed for the opener at New Orleans. Despite the efforts, Garcia did not play well and the Buccaneers' hopes of repeating as division champions were not in a position to weather a slow start by their starting quarterback.
Since the benching, Pewter Report has heard from sources that Garcia did not take the decision well at all. There were some that used the term "meltdown" as his response. That is unknown for sure, but what is clear is that Garcia is not the same quarterback mentally and physically from last year. His performance in OTAs, mini-camp, training camp, preseason, and the regular season prove that. The media members saying that Garcia was unfairly benched were not there watching him over that stretch, and just don't know what they are talking about.
4. GRIESE IS ON HIS WAY TO BEING THE LONG-TERM STARTING QUARTERBACK Many Bucs fans on Pewter Report's message boards have argued that the Buccaneers need to find a long-term answer at quarterback and Griese is just a stop-gap. Some of the posters want the Bucs to play backup quarterback Luke McCown. Some have even said they want Tampa Bay to play rookie Josh Johnson. They look at Griese's age and mixed performances in his career and do not consider him a possible answer at the starting quarterback position for seasons to come. Coach Gruden was asked about Griese being sold short as a quarterback.
"Locally, by outsiders, he might get sold short, but nationally with people that watch film, I don't believe (he's sold short)," said Gruden. "He's been a starter for Mike Shanahan in Denver, a starter for the Miami Dolphins and the Chicago Bears, a starter here. He's played in 90 games and started 80 of them. He's a starting NFL quarterback. He's done well for us; you have to admit he's done well for us. We think he can get better and better. We'd like to have [B.J.] Askew. We'd like to have [Davin] Joseph, [Joey] Galloway, and Cadillac Williams guys you're counting on having. Don't forget he is doing it in some tough circumstances. We're confident in him. We're really confident in Griese."
After speaking with sources in the Buccaneers front office, the prevalent message was get used to seeing Griese as the Bucs starting quarterback. They say they see no reason why he couldn't be the quarterback in Tampa Bay for three or four more seasons. That's right – three or four more seasons. The organization would love to have a quarterback like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Phillip Rivers, but those types of quarterbacks are hard to find and less than a handful of NFL teams have them.
Sources say that it is of huge importance to the organization that they have a veteran that runs the offense efficiently. According to them, what Griese understands better than anybody is how to run the offense, and get the most out of it. They say with Griese, you see Gruden's offense at its best.
Now before you scoff at that notion, consider two things. One, Griese has done the one thing that Gruden values above everything else, and that is lead the team to wins. Over Griese's last eight starts for Gruden, the Buccaneers are 7-1. The second item to consider, in the history of the Buccaneers franchise is Griese owns the highest passer rating (97.5) entering this season. In two games this season Griese has a rating of 71.3. Ironically, the same rating that Garcia generated in his start at New Orleans. After the vehement support of Griese as a long-term quarterback from sources, Pewter Report asked Gruden if Griese gives the franchise long-term stability at quarterback.
"Yeah, I mean, yeah," said Gruden definitely. "He's a winner. He's a good quarterback and he's won seven out of eight. He's the all-time leader in passing in the history of the franchise. That's 30-plus years of Buc ball. Yeah, so we're happy with him. We want him to get better. I want him to get better. I want to see us get better around him. We got guys that are going to really have to step up. Byron Storer is going to have to really step up [this week]. Obviously, Jeremy Zuttah is going to have to keep it going and some other guys."
The 33-year-old Griese is the same age, and has had a similar career to that of former Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon. Gannon started for a few years under Gruden, and for another two years beyond his departure. Griese is signed for next season, but if he has a good season and leads the Bucs to the playoffs then Tampa Bay could want to sign him to an extension. While Griese may not be the most popular quarterback with Bucs fans, he is very popular in the organization and it sounds like he could very likely be the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers for years to come if he continues to win games.