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Feeling optimistic about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' chances of rebounding in 2007? You should. The team's 3-1 preseason gave Bucs fans plenty of reasons to hope as the team gets ready to kick off the 2007 campaign in Seattle. Pewter Report identifies some of the positives from Tampa Bay's successful preseason in this Pewter Insider article.

POINTS APLENTY
To say that what happens in the NFL preseason is meaningless can be a bit misleading. The Bucs had trouble scoring points last August, and that problem manifested itself when it came to the regular season. The Bucs scored 190 points on offense during the 2006 regular season (not including defensive touchdowns from linebacker Derrick Brooks and two TDs by cornerback Ronde Barber), an average of 11.875 points per game.

Last preseason, the Bucs scored only 57 points, an average of 14.25 points per game, and didn’t score over 20 points in any contest, while going 1-3. This preseason, the Tampa Bay offense scored 87 points (not including linebacker Cato June’s defensive touchdown), an average of 21.75 points per game, which helped he team compile a 3-1 record.

The difference in the 2007 preseason was the fact that the Buccaneers scored 11 touchdowns and just three field goals when it came to offensive point production. In August of 2006, Tampa Bay scored just six offensive touchdowns and kicked five field goals.

The fact that the Buccaneers nearly doubled their touchdown production this preseason bodes well for Tampa Bay because it gives the offense confidence that it can move the ball and put touchdowns on the board instead of settling for field goals.

The difference between 21.75 points per game and 14.25 points per game is a touchdown. Just imagine what an extra touchdown per game could have done for Tampa Bay a year ago. Another touchdown turns a home contest against Carolina and away games at New Orleans and Chicago into wins in 2006. All of a sudden, the Buccaneers are a bit more respectable at 7-9 rather than an embarrassing 4-12.

Tampa Bay didn’t even score an offensive touchdown against Baltimore, Atlanta (twice), Philadelphia, NY Giants, Pittsburgh last year during the regular season. That’s six games out of 16. Here’s guessing that number gets cut in half, or perhaps cut out altogether, in 2007 as the Buccaneers offense lives up to its potential and puts more points on the scoreboard.

“We feel like we’re making strides,” head coach and offensive play-caller Jon Gruden said. “All you have is the preseason to judge your true strides. Statistically speaking, we led the league in throwing the ball. We threw a lot of touchdown passes and completed a lot of balls to different guys. We made a lot of progress. The offense is a lot different from what it was the last couple of years. We were a lot of tight ends and two backs. We felt that gave our guys a chance at winning. We had success two years ago doing that. You want to score.

“It goes hand in hand with a lot of things. We’re better at right tackle than we were last year. That I know, and no disrespect to Kenyatta [Walker], but he got cut by Carolina. Our right guard in the opener last year was Jeb Terry. Davin Joseph is coming off a great offseason and we’re going to be better there. [Rookie left guard Arron] Sears is going to be a hell of a player. We’ll see how he is. He’s been inactive for a couple weeks, but he’s going to be stellar in Tampa Bay. [Left tackle Luke] Petitgout gives us an upgrade at an area where we need it. [Jeff] Garcia is a hell of lot better quarterback than we’ve had around here in a while. No disrespect to anybody, but that’s a fact. [B.J.] Askew has proven that he’s not only a good run blocker, but he’s a threat as a receiver. I think the tight end situation with Alex [Smith] going into his third year and Jerramy Stevens has proven he can catch the ball. Seattle will be a tough test. It will be loud, but we feel a lot better than we have offensively in a long time.”

BETTER QB PLAY
The Buccaneers received outstanding from all three of its top quarterbacks in the preseason, and as a unit, played as well as any team in the NFL. Tampa Bay quarterbacks completed 64.3 percent of their passes for 903 yards with 10 touchdowns, two interceptions, 10 sacks and a cumulative QB rating of 104.2.

Luke McCown showed no rust from missing the 2006 preseason due to a torn ACL, and led the Bucs with a QB rating of 113.3, while completing 72 percent of his passes for 394 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. McCown was sacked the most in the preseason, a team-leading eight times.

Bruce Gradkowski, who started 11 games as a rookie last year when Chris Simms was lost for the season, had a QB rating of 106.1, while completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 408 yards with four TDs, no picks and no sacks.

Starter Jeff Garcia completed 55 percent of his throws for 101 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He was also sacked twice and compiled a QB rating of 81.5.

Last preseason, Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks completed 65.2 percent of their passes, throwing five touchdowns, five interceptions, getting sacked 10 times and posting a cumulative QB rating of 81.3. Those numbers fell even further once the regular season rolled around, with the Bucs quarterbacks completing 55.3 percent of their passes with 14 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, getting sacked 33 times and posting a cumulative QB rating of 66.2.

The Bucs quarterbacks also showed a great deal of mobility during the 2007 preseason – more mobility than any group of signal callers under head coach Jon Gruden. McCown led the way with 63 yards rushing on eight carries (7.9 avg.), including a 27-yard scramble. Garcia rushed for 27 yards on four carries (6.8 avg.) and picked up a couple of first downs with his legs. Gradkowski had a 12-yard run during the preseason to pick up a first down, but because he kneeled down with the ball to win three preseason games, he finished with five carries for seven yards.

“The difference is Jeff,” Bucs running back Michael Pittman said. “Jeff is our new leader on offense and I think he’s going to be a big key. He’s a veteran guy who has been there and done that before. He’s won a lot of close games and tough games. He’s a fiery guy. He’s intense. He’s a great leader. When he talks, you listen. We’re very excited. We’ve got a lot of skill position players with me on the field with Cadillac [Williams] and even with B.J. Askew, an athletic fullback who can catch the ball and make people miss, coming in the game. We’re very excited about this and we just can’t wait to get this season going.”

THE SHOTGUN
True to his word, Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden implemented the shotgun during the 2007 offseason and used it quite extensively during the preseason. New Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia and his fellow signal callers took to the formation and lauded the potential it brings to Gruden’s offense because it allows the quarterback to naturally separate from the oncoming rush and gain an extra second to read the defense’s coverage.

Against New England, Tampa Bay ran 61 plays with 22 of those plays being passes. Of those 22 passes, three of them were in of the shotgun formation (13.6 percent).

In the next game against Jacksonville, Tampa Bay ran 55 plays with 30 of them being pass plays. The Bucs were in the shotgun in 13 of those pass plays (43.3 percent).

Against Miami, Tampa Bay executed 68 offensive plays, including 37 passes. The Bucs were in the shotgun a total of 17 times, including three designed run plays. Of the 14 called pass plays in the shotgun (37.8 percent), two of those plays turned out to be quarterback scrambles.

In the preseason finale against Houston, Tampa Bay ran 67 offensive plays with 40 of them being passes. The Bucs were in the shotgun for eight passing plays (20 percent) and three running plays against the Texans.

Out of 251 total plays, the Bucs lined up in the shotgun 17.5 percent of the time during the preseason. And when Tampa Bay was lining up to the pass the ball, it was in the shotgun 27.3 percent of the time.

The shotgun had some mixed reviews during the preseason, generating a couple of touchdowns and a couple of sacks and mis-snaps. Some big pass plays came out of it, as did some incompletions. Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks scrambled a few times and the Bucs ran an 18-yard reverse out of the formation.

But overall, the formation was successful enough that Gruden used it 44 times, which is more than he was expected to, and will continue to use it during the regular season.

OTHER REASONS TO HOPE
• The healthy return of shutdown cornerback Brian Kelly.
• A revamped offensive line that might be the Bucs’ most talented line in years.
• Running back Cadillac Williams showing considerable burst and determination at Miami.
• The play of rookie defensive end Gaines Adams, who led the Bucs with two preseason sacks.
• Tampa Bay’s schedule, which is considerably easier after the first five games.
• The addition of linebacker Cato June, who is exceptional in pass coverage.
• The signing of defensive lineman Kevin Carter, who brings size and pass-rushing ability to Tampa Bay.

THE CEILING
While Pewter Report is forecasting an 8-8 season for Tampa Bay, the Bucs’ ceiling for the 2007 season is a 10-6 record. What has to happen for the Bucs to get to double-digit wins? Tampa Bay has to start fast. The last two (and only two) times that the Bucs have posted double-digit wins under Jon Gruden is when the team has started the season 5-1. The Bucs must stay healthy – especially quarterback Jeff Garcia – and Tampa Bay must also be the division winner and have injuries and misfortune strike other contenders in the NFC South. The Bucs just don’t have the manpower to reach 11 or more wins as they were able to accomplish in 2002 and 2005, but a 10-win season and a return to the playoffs should excite the fanbase.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]