Pewter Report cut its trip to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. short on Wednesday due to the fact that we had to travel back from Mobile, Ala. to Tampa, Fla. to cover Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott’s retirement press conference, which will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday at One Buccaneer Place.

In the meantime, Pewter Report has compiled what it has learned in Mobile regarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and shares that information in this notebook, which will take the place of the SR’s Fab Five and Flynn’s Focus columns this week.

BUCS CLOSE TO FILLING OUT COACHING STAFF
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are close to filling out their coaching staff, which has vacancies at the running backs, quarterbacks, senior assistant/offensive line and assistant defensive backs coaching positions.

The Bucs have interviewed over one dozen candidates for those coaching jobs, but they haven’t exactly paraded them around Mobile, Ala. for the media to see.

What Pewter Report does know is the Bucs, who also conducted several interviews at One Buccaneer Place before leaving for the Senior Bowl, are on the verge of hiring at least one coach. That could be Mike Mularky, who was the former offensive coordinator for Pittsburgh and ex-head coach in Buffalo.

However, Tampa Bay might not announce its new coaching staff members until Super Bowl XLII draws closer.

In the meantime, Paul Hackett, who has served as Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks coach since 2005, apparently hasn’t lined up too many job opportunities. In fact, one source suggested Hackett could sit out of football in 2008 in hopes of landing an offensive coordinator gig elsewhere in 2009.

Sources informed Pewter Report on Wednesday that Tampa Bay offensive quality control coach Nathaniel Hackett, who is Paul Hackett’s son, has left the Bucs and been hired by the Buffalo Bills in an unknown capacity.

Buccaneers senior assistant/offensive line Aaron Kromer isn’t likely to return to Tampa Bay, but it is unclear who his replacement might be.

The Buccaneers still are looking for Art Valero’s replacement, and Mularkey could still be a candidate for Tampa Bay’s running backs coaching position, but it is more likely that he would be considered for the role of QBs coach.

When asked about interviewing with Tampa Bay from Wednesday morning’s North practice at Ladd Peebles Stadium, Mularkey didn’t say much, saying, “I have no official comment at this time.” However, a report in the St. Petersburg Times said that he is expected to interview with the Bucs as early as Thursday.

Several sources have suggested to Pewter Report that a mystery candidate still is on the Bucs’ radar, but uncovering the name of that person proved to be impossible to do in Mobile. Could it be former Stanford and University of Pittsburgh head coach Walt Harris? Gruden coached with Harris at the University of Tennessee in 1986 and has a great deal of respect for him and his grasp of the West Coast offense.

Or did Gruden lure former Raiders QB Rich Gannon to Tampa Bay to teach the position he played so well? Those are our guesses. We'll keep digging and see what happens.

One thing is known – the Buccaneers expect to fill all of their coaching vacancies by Feb. 3.

NEED FOR SPEED
Tampa Bay made improving the play of the quarterbacks and defensive linemen a priority during the 2007 offseason.

The Buccaneers have identified another need heading into the 2008 offseason – the need for speed.

That was a recurring theme from the Bucs’ standpoint in Mobile, Ala. this week as Tampa Bay’s scouts, coaches and front office executives observed the talent on the North and South teams.

The Bucs already have speed on defense, where the team finished the 2007 season ranked No. 2 overall. The offensive side of the ball, however, is in desperate need of speed at several positions, including wide receiver, running back and even tight end.

There are several speedy players at the Senior Bowl this week, including running backs Justin Forsett (Cal) and Chris Johnson (East Carolina) and wide receivers Donnie Avery (Houston), Dorien Bryant (Purdue) and Eddie Royal (Virginia Tech).

The one thing the Buccaneers must be careful not to do is get too infatuated with a player’s speed and overlook some of his other abilities and/or flaws. Remember – Tampa Bay used to have speed at wide receiver with Jacquez Green, Reidel Anthony and Bert Emanuel, but non one of those players were even close to becoming Pro Bowlers.

CENTER POSITION A CONCERN FOR BUCS
While the running back position has been one of interest from a media standpoint, Tampa Bay will also attempt to address its center position this offseason, where John Wade and Matt Lehr are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on Feb. 29.

Tampa Bay needs the center to do two things – make the line call and deliver the football to the quarterback. The second part of that equation is especially important with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden implementing the shotgun formation last year.

Although he is 32 and past his prime, Wade has been consistent in doing those two things, which is why the Bucs are very open to the possibility of re-signing him.

However, the Bucs are also exploring other options in an effort to upgrade the center position, especially from a physical standpoint, where Wade was at times dominated in 2007.

The Bucs likely will give 2005 fourth-round draft pick Dan Buenning, who started all 17 games at guard as a rookie, a shot to compete at center again this year, but it’s not safe to assume he will win or solidify that position. The Bucs simply won’t believe it until they see it from Buenning.

The centers at the Senior Bowl haven’t been overly impressive, and the position is not considered a real strength of the 2008 free agent class. However, one option Tampa Bay could explore is signing a veteran free agent guard and moving him to center.

One player to keep an eye on is Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 29.

Although he’s 31, Faneca is a player many believe could make the transition from guard to center. He could also prove to be an upgrade and temporary solution for the Buccaneers as far as the center position goes, and his leadership skills could be deemed quite valuable in terms of mentoring Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which is one of the youngest in the NFL.

Wade has been a good leader, but Faneca could prove to be a better player for Tampa Bay. Keep an eye on Faneca when free agency begins, and don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers express serious interest in signing him.

BUCS BELIEVE GRAHAM CAN CARRY THE LOAD
Tampa Bay’s running back situation is completely up in the air at this point.

Fullback Mike Alstott is expected to retire Thursday and Cadillac Williams’ future is in doubt due to the grueling rehab associated with the torn patellar injury he suffered in Week 4 of the regular season.

In addition to possibly being without both Alstott and Williams in 2008, Michael Bennett and Michael Pittman are scheduled to become free agents on Feb. 29. Based on what Pewter Report learned from sources this week, both players are likely will hit the open market as opposed to re-signing with Tampa Bay before the free agent signing period begins.

The Bucs would like to re-sign Pittman and Bennett, but only at the right price.

The good news for Tampa Bay is it has Earnest Graham under contract through the end of the 2008 season.

Graham, a former undrafted free agent and third-string running back, did a great job of filling in for Williams and Pittman by rushing for nearly 900 yards, averaging 4.0 yards per carry and scoring 10 touchdowns while hauling in nearly 50 passes.

Tampa Bay could attempt to sign Graham to a contract extension this offseason. However, Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen had not talked with Graham’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, about that situation in Mobile as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Buccaneers saw enough from Graham last season to believe he can carry the load as Tampa Bay’s primary running back in 2008. He was consistent in terms of catching running and securing the football. In addition, Graham was a fairly reliable blocker in pass protection, which is extremely important in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense.

With nearly $30 million to spend in free agency, the Buccaneers likely will dedicate a significant amount of that available cap room to addressing their running game, which ranked 11th overall in 2007. The team is expected to be looking for a complimentary back in free agency, but may select a starting-caliber runner in the 2008 NFL Draft.

The Bucs could opt to re-sign Pittman and/or Bennett, but they’re more likely to let those players hit free agency and take a hard look at some of the other players that hit the market, like Michael Turner (San Diego), Mewelde Moore (Minnesota) and Julius Jones (Dallas), among others. We’ve heard that Bennett has a greater chance of being re-signed than the 32-year old Pittman does.

BUCS TO STOCKPILE QUARTERBACKS?
Some believe head coach Jon Gruden could never have enough quarterbacks on his roster. That’s probably true, but it’s tough to blame him given the frequency in which injuries occur at that position each season in the NFL.

Tampa Bay typically brings five quarterbacks to training camp each year. That’s the number of signal callers the Bucs have on their current roster, which features Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Bruce Gradkowski, Chris Simms and Jake Plummer.

The Bucs will attempt to lure Plummer, 33, out of retirement again this offseason. They believe there’s a 50 percent chance of that happening. If the Bucs do convince Plummer to play football in 2008, who might be the odd man out?

The answer is no one, or at least not right away. Tampa Bay would ideally like to take all five of those quarterbacks into training camp and have them battle it out on the football field. The Bucs might even draft another quarterback – the team is closely scouting Delaware’s Joe Flacco and San Diego’s Josh Johnson – to push the number of QBs to six, like it was last offseason.

Garcia likely would be considered the frontrunner, but the Buccaneers would not guarantee him the starting job should Plummer, whose contract calls for him to earn more than $5 million in base salary this year, decide to play for Tampa Bay.

Simms, who is entering the final year of his contract, has played in just three regular season games over the past two seasons due to the lingering effects of the spleen injury he suffered in Sept. of 2006.

While he recently said he feels like he’ll be 100 percent healthy and ready to go when organized team activities begin later this offseason, Simms is considered a big question mark heading into 2008.

Even before he had the splenectomy, Simms wasn’t playing well. The left-handed pocket passer is also not considered a great fit for head coach Jon Gruden’s offensive system, which has some wondering if the Bucs should attempt to trade Simms, a former third-round draft pick, in an effort to get something for him as opposed to releasing him in the preseason.

However, the Buccaneers have a first day draft pick, lucrative contract and time invested in Simms, who might not have much trade value due to the uncertainty surrounding his injury.

A lot could happen in training camp and preseason. What if one or even two quarterbacks get hurt? What if Plummer unretires just to call it quits again a month or two later?

That said, the Bucs would feel comfortable with their quarterback position if they could have all five of those signal callers competing on the practice field during OTAs and training camp. They also believe the quarterbacks on their 53-man roster come September would be that much better for having faced some still competition throughout the offseason and in training camp and preseason.

BUCS EXPECTED TO TARGET DE SMITH
Although it improved in 2007, Tampa Bay will once again attempt to upgrade its pass rush, particularly along the defensive line, during the 2008 offseason.

The Bucs have two up-and-coming defensive ends in Gaines Adams and Greg White, but they also have two aging defensive ends that are past their prime in Kevin Carter and Greg Spires, who will be 35 and 34, respectively in 2008.

Although Carter is scheduled to earn more in base salary, Spires could be in more danger of being released or traded this year.

While they’re high on Adams and White, Bucs defensive line coach/assistant head coach Larry Coyer would like to continue to rotate players on a consistent basis, which means the Bucs will be in the market for at least one pass rusher.

The Bucs would love to have a shot at signing Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen, but the Chiefs likely will slap the franchise tag on him before free agency begins, which would prevent the Bucs or any other team from touching him unless they trade for him.

Our Cincinnati sources suggested to Pewter Report earlier this week that Bengals defensive end Justin Smith likely would be allowed to test free agency after being franchised last year. The Bucs were planning on making a hard run at Smith in free agency last year before Cincy applied the franchise tag.

Smith, 28, posted a career-low two sacks last season, which wasn’t ideal given the fact that he was in a contract year. However, Smith’s overall production has been impressive. He recorded 7.5 sacks in 2006 and has 43.5 career quarterback takedowns since entering the NFL in 2001 as a first-round pick out of Missouri.

The 28-year-old Smith is considered to be a durable, fiery player that could immediately improve Tampa Bay’s pass rush. He would likely replace veteran Greg Spires, who has struggled with injuries late in his career and also finished with a disappointing two sacks in 2007.

Smith’s sub-par production in 2007 could make him come much cheaper than he would have last season. The Buccaneers are expected to make a big push for Smith when free agency starts on Feb. 29.

Want the inside scoop on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2008 offseason plans? Want to find out who the Bucs are targeting in free agency and the NFL Draft this year? Subscribe to PewterReport.com's Pewter Insider by clicking here.

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