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This week’s SR’s Fab 5 is sponsored by Prime Time Sports Grill

Here are five things that caught my attention this week:

FAB 1. Is Tony Dungy the best coach in Buccaneers history? After all, he is the one that ended a 13-year playoff drought and turned Tampa Bay into winners.

Or is Jon Gruden the best coach the franchise has ever had, considering he has won the most division titles (three NFC South championships) and Tampa Bay’s only Super Bowl title?

Out of the seven head coaches the team has had since its inception in 1976, it’s fair to say that both men have made the biggest contributions to the Buccaneers franchise. But chances are good that Gruden will become Tampa Bay’s all-time winningest coach, a title that Dungy currently carries with it a 54-42 mark in six regular seasons and a 56-46 record, including the playoffs.

In seven seasons, Gruden has a 48-48 record that improves to 51-50 when you include the postseason. If Gruden wins six games this season he will tie Dungy for the most victories in the regular season (54), but will surpass him for the most wins in franchise history, including the playoffs (57). After seven wins, Gruden becomes the all-time winningest coach in Buccaneers history in all categories.

If Gruden can begin to string together consecutive winning seasons, as Dungy did from 1999-2001, and his team can play consistent football, there will be no question that the fair-haired, hot-tempered Chucky will undisputedly become the best head coach in Tampa Bay – if he isn’t already. The fact that Gruden has not posted consecutive winning seasons is the biggest knock on him among fans and pundits.

It’s hard to imagine the Bucs winning less than seven games this season with a talented roster and rising expectations. That means that Gruden could overtake Dungy in October or November depending on the level of early season success the Bucs have in 2008.

When asked about the prospects of becoming Tampa Bay’s all-time winningest coach this year, Gruden was modest and didn’t want to dwell on the question.

“I just want to win another game, man” said Gruden. “I’m kind of a short-term goal-oriented guy. Time is flying, man. Time has really gone by. It has been a great responsibility and a lot of hard work. That is all I am focused on. If you can accomplish anything – I just want to win. I just want to win and be associated with a team that wins. So do our players and they deserve that.”

Now do you really want to know who the all-time winningest coach in Tampa Bay really is? It’s neither Gruden nor Dungy.

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has actually won more games in Tampa Bay than any other coach – head coach or assistant. Because his tenure with the Buccaneers has spanned both the Dungy and Gruden eras, Kiffin has a regular season mark of 102-90 in his 12 seasons with the franchise. That record swells to 107-96 when including the postseason. Kiffin has a Super Bowl ring from the 2002 season and four division titles – three under Gruden and the 1999 NFC Central championship under Dungy.

FAB 2. About half of the NFL teams released a few players on Friday, the day before the NFL roster cuts. Even more teams made their roster cuts by or before the 6:00 p.m. deadline on Saturday. After 6:00 p.m. came and went, close to 20,000 Buccaneers fans were on PewterReport.com waiting … and waiting … and waiting for the team’s roster cuts to be announced.

After two and a half dizzying hours, the Buccaneers finally released their roster cuts close to 8:45 p.m., much to the chagrin of the media and fans, who had better things to do on a Saturday night than to wait and see which players were released. So why did Tampa Bay wait so long when almost every NFL team had made its cuts public in the 6:00 p.m. hour?

The reason is the Buccaneers strategically wait several hours to announce their cuts so opposing teams don’t have a lot of time to evaluate the players Tampa Bay released. NFL scouting departments have to spend cut-down day pouring over tape of players who were released. Because most front offices have less than 10 pro scouts, watching film on most of the cut players from 31 NFL teams can be a daunting undertaking.

The Bucs love nothing better than to see teams like Kansas City release their cut-down announcements on Saturday morning because the scouts and coaches have all day to pour over the film of those players to see if there are any players worthy of signing to Tampa Bay’s active roster, or more likely, to its practice squad.

This is not about secrecy. This tactic is all about maintaining a competitive advantage and formulating the best possible practice squad.

Although all of the teams must notify the NFL of their cuts, the league does not send out the official composite list for the entire league until 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m., so other teams didn’t know who Tampa Bay released until the Bucs announced their cuts.

The roster cuts as a whole didn’t feature any surprises. The Bucs have spent three draft picks on linebackers over the last two years in Quincy Black, Adam Hayward and Geno Hayes. The reason was to get faster and more athletic than Ryan Nece at the linebacker position. As expected, Nece was among the players who were released on Saturday night.

I’ll say this about Nece. The one thing that stands out about him is that this is a self-made man. Nece, who is the son of NFL Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, was an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2002 and was not blessed with great speed or natural athleticism. He had to work very hard on sculpting his body and squeezing every bit of speed and agility out of it. It was not uncommon to see Nece running after practice, but what was more commendable was seeing how he was constantly working on his footwork by stutter-stepping around the water cooler or running wind sprints down the sidelines during practice when he is not taking reps on the field.

Nece constantly worked on getting better as an athlete and a football player. He knew that his strength was his intelligence and his instincts, and his weakness was his athleticism. Instead of kneeling down on the sidelines to watch practice and take mental reps, Nece knew he was better served working on becoming an improved athlete by sprinting down the sidelines during practices.

It’s that approach that allowed him to beat the odds for six NFL seasons and become a special teams captain while escaping the turk at the end of the preseason. Unfortunately for Nece, the turk finally came calling this year. The unhappiest man at One Buccaneer Place is probably special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who was a big fan of Nece.

Enough has been written about Chris Simms, the team’s fourth-string quarterback, over the past six months. I wish Simms well, but I’m glad this saga is over. I think he has the talent to play in the NFL, but not as a starter.

There will be a lot of fans of media members who will chastise the Buccaneers for drafting Maryland defensive tackle Dre Moore in the fourth round because he was one of the players Tampa Bay released on Saturday night. Moore was worth drafting because of his potential and his presence helped push Ryan Sims and Greg Peterson to become better players in training camp. It’s all about competition.

I’m glad that the Bucs picked Peterson over Moore. Here is what I wrote in the PewterReport.com Roundtable Thursday night about Peterson and Moore:

“If a roster decision were to come down between Peterson and rookie Dre Moore, who was Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick this year, I would take Peterson. While Peterson is still raw, which can be expected coming from tiny North Carolina Central, he has the physical tools necessary to compete in the NFL in addition to his hustle. He had three tackles and was really active against Houston – as he has been during the entire preseason – while Moore had a reputation for being out of shape and not as driven at the University of Maryland. Yes, most teams don’t cut their fourth-round draft pick in their first season in the NFL. But Peterson deserves a roster spot more than Moore does. Peterson was a fifth-round pick last year, so any embarrassment over cutting a fourth-round pick should have no bearing on this decision due to Peterson’s similar draft status from the previous year.”

One thing that should be noted is that the Bucs have misfired on two fourth-round draft picks over the past three years – cornerback Alan Zemaitis in 2006 and Moore in 2008. But then again, this is a very deep Buccaneers team, especially on defense.

FAB 3. So which Buccaneers players who are expected to be big factors in 2008 are coming off a big preseason? Pewter Report lists the top 10 men of August:

1. Bucs starting offensive line
It’s hard to pick out just one. The starting offensive line has been dominant in the preseason, helping the Bucs to average 310 yards per game, including 122 yards on the ground. Tampa Bay converted an amazing 51.5 percent of its third downs in the preseason. By contrast, the defense only allowed opponents to make 27.1 percent of its third downs. The starting offensive line only allowed three sacks in three games. Center Jeff Faine and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood have played especially well. Right guard Davin Joseph was a stud prior to breaking his foot, but rookie replacement Jeremy Zuttah has been solid.

2. CB Ronde Barber
Barber had six tackles, two pass breakups, one sack, one forced fumble and one interception during the preseason and was one of the most productive defenders in August. Expect the Bucs to blitz Barber more often this year and wind up with five or six sacks in addition to leading the Bucs in interceptions. Expect one more big year from the aging Barber.

3. RB Michael Bennett
Bennett may be the most improved player on offense from a year ago. Last year, he flashed his speed as a runner and receiver, but this preseason, Bennett has shown that he can pick up the tough yards between the tackles as well as pick up the blitz in pass protection. He’s earned more playing time in the regular season with 203 yards and one touchdown on 45 carries (4.5 avg.) in August.

4. DL Jimmy Wilkerson
Wilkerson had a dominant preseason with six tackles, a team-high two sacks for 15 yards, one pass defensed, one fumble recovery on defense and another fumble recovery on special teams. Wilkerson has shown he can play defensive tackle in pass rushing situations as well as defensive end and should see plenty of action during the regular season.

5. QB Brian Griese
Griese was the Bucs’ leading passer in the preseason with a 94.2 QB rating. He completed 74.3 percent of his passes during the preseason for 174 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Jeff Garcia enters the regular season as the starter, but if he falters after a shaky preseason, Jon Gruden can turn to Griese, who has had the hottest hand in the preseason.

6. WR Antonio Bryant
Bryant got the last two preseason games off to rest his knee, but in just two contests, he caught five passes for 57 yards, including a 33-yarder that was the longest play of the preseason for Tampa Bay’s offense. Bryant also had a 16-yard reverse that showed he still had some explosiveness that can help the Buccaneers.

7. TE John Gilmore
Gilmore has been as good as advertised as a run blocker. He’s more athletic than his predecessor, Anthony Becht, and is also a better receiver. Gilmore showed that he could not only catch the ball, but he could also get some movement after catch with four catches for 31 yards. When the Bucs are in a two tight end set, opponents can’t simply isolate on Alex Smith anymore.

8. FS Will Allen
Allen had a superb preseason with 13 special teams tackles. While he didn’t make many splash plays, he didn’t miss many assignments, either. Allen, who is a very good special teamer, had three tackles covering kicks. With Sabby Piscitelli’s knee injury, Allen would be the first safety in the game, which is fine considering how well he played in August.

9. NT Chris Hovan
Hovan has been in the middle of a Buccaneers defense that has allowed an average of only 192 yards per game in the preseason. Hovan has had a couple of tackles for loss this preseason, but the exciting thing about his game is that he has recorded a sack and shown a better pass rush. Sacks have eluded Hovan during his three-year stint in Tampa Bay – he’s only had 3.5 since becoming a Buccaneer. Hovan’s backup, Ryan Sims, also had a strong preseason subbing for the injured Jovan Haye.

10. PR Dexter Jackson
The Bucs breathed a sigh of relief heading into the season opener after Jackson ripped off an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown at Houston. That’s exactly what Tampa Bay drafted him to do. The fact that he had a big return gives Jackson and the Bucs confidence that the team’s weakest position – punt returner – is in good hands. Jackson finished with 120 yards on four returns (30 avg.).

FAB 4. With all of the attention paid to the arrival of free agent center Jeff Faine, right guard Davin Joseph’s broken foot, the play of rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah and the release of injured left tackle Luke Petitgout, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood has not made many headlines prior to the start of the 2008 regular season. But give it a week or two and Trueblood will probably start gaining attention.

One of the first eye-catching things about Trueblood this offseason is the appearance of some hair. The 6-foot-8 offensive lineman is going bald, but let his thinning hair grow out this summer, styling it like a faux-hawk. Nice try, Jeremy, but you looked more bad ass with a shaved head and a goatee, which he kept from the 2007 season.

In training camp, Trueblood shaved his head – except for a thin strip of hair down the center.

“I was back in Indianapolis lifting with my buddy Mathias [Kiwanuka] with the Giants,” Trueblood said. “He was giving me a bunch of grief over how bald I was. I hadn’t had a haircut in a while and it was receding, as they say. It was very noticeable. So I figured if I cut it in a Mohawk people would focus on what is still there.”

The second most noticeable thing about Trueblood this year is how svelte he is. Trueblood has shed about 15 pounds from a year ago and is noticeably quicker in pass protection.

“I’m a lot leaner,” Trueblood said. “Davin keeps calling me skinny. I just cut out fried foods. That’s all I did. I cut out fat. I’m stronger and faster than I’ve ever been. I’m lighter than I have been in a long while. I weigh 300 pounds right now. My rookie year I was 325 pounds.

“I feel quicker. On cutoff blocks I feel like I can just fly around. I feel good and I want to continue to feel this way.”

Trueblood said that he didn’t sacrifice any strength while slimming down this offseason.

“My goal was never to get this low, it was just to get in shape,” Trueblood said. “Actually, I’m stronger than I have ever been in my life. I’ve lifted more than I ever have. In college, the most I ever benched was 375 pounds and I could only do that one time. During the summer, I did a set of 375 pounds five times. Obviously, that’s much more than I’ve ever done. I can see it on the field. When I punch somebody they really rock back. It’s easier to do.”

The motivation for Trueblood’s desire to shed some excess bulk was to develop the quickness to defend elite pass rushing left ends without getting false start penalties or getting beat for sacks. As a whole, the Buccaneers offensive line played quite well against the New York Giants in the team’s 24-14 Wild Card loss, surrendering only one sack to a fearsome foursome and some blitz-happy linebackers. But the one sack that was surrendered was to Michael Strahan and came against Trueblood.

“It was a learning experience,” Trueblood said. “We played hard all year to get to the playoffs and then to lose one game it was very disappointing. Just the way we played them at the very beginning of the game and then to see them go on and win the Super Bowl, it was very disappointing. It’s all about consistency. We showed what we could do. What we have to do is continue to do that on a regular basis. If we do that we’ll be fine.”

With less pounds and more hair, Trueblood enters the 2008 season ready to make a name for himself. His experience will not only have to serve him well, but with Zuttah starting the season at right guard while Joseph is on the mend, Trueblood’s experience will also have to serve the rookie well, too.

FAB 5. Here are a couple of things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5 – after a word from our sponsor.

SR’s FAB 5 SPONSOR: PRIME TIME SPORTS GRILL
Please allow me to introduce you to a new section in each SR’s Fab 5, which recognizes one of Pewter Report’s sponsors. I ask you to read this paragraph in each edition as it is these companies that support our efforts and make it possible for you to enjoy Pewter Report’s coverage of the Buccaneers. This week’s sponsor is Prime Time Sports Bar. If you are looking for a great place to watch the Bucs games this year – home and away – take a trip along Dale Mabry to Carrollwood where Prime Time Sports Bar has been a fixture for years and years next to the Tampa Pitcher Show movie theater. You’ll find over 50 TVs (with speakers at each table so you’ll be able to hear all the action), including 11 large screens, plenty of sandwiches, burgers, wraps, nachos, chicken wings, potato skins, mozzarella sticks, peel and eat shrimp, and $5 pitchers of beer as well as a full liquor bar. Prime Time Sports Grill has NFL Network and shows all of the NFL and college games, in addition to Pay-Per-View UFC and WWE matches. If you want to play some games rather than watch them, check out the NTN Trivia, darts and billiard tables. Free WiFi is also available at Prime Time Sports Grill. You might even see beautiful Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleader Britney Craine (the cover girl on Pewter Report’s 2007 Cheerleader Issue) tending bar at Prime Time Sports Grill on occasion. Her father, Doug Craine, is the owner of that fine establishment. Stop by and tell them Pewter Report sent you.

• Here are some preseason superlatives from the Tampa Bay defense:
Leading tacklers: safety Will Allen (13) and linebacker Adam Hayward (13)
Interceptions: cornerback Elbert Mack (1), cornerback Ronde Barber (1) and linebacker Geno Hayes (1)
Sacks: defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (2), nose tackle Chris Hovan (1), defensive tackle Chris Bradwell (1), defensive end Charles Bennett (1), cornerback Ronde Barber (1) and cornerback Eugene Wilson (1).

• Here are some preseason superlatives from the Tampa Bay offense:
Leading rusher: Michael Bennett 45 carries for 203 yards yards (4.5 avg.), one TD
Leading passer: Brian Griese 26-of-35 for 174 yards (74.3 percent) with one TD and no INTs
Leading receiver: Clifton Smith 11 catches for 91 yards
Longest run: Michael Benett for 31 yards
Longest pass: Luke McCown to Antonio Bryant for 33 yards

Here are some preseason superlatives from Tampa Bay’s special teams:
Kicking: Matt Bryant was 7-of-12 on field goals (58.3 percent)
Punting: Josh Bidwell averaged 44.8 yards per punt , had a 39.5 net, downed four kicks inside the 20 and had one touchback
Punt returns: The Bucs averaged 16.9 yards per return with Dexter Jackson’s 30-yard average leading the way
Kickoff returns: The Bucs averaged 19.1 yards per return, led by Clifton Smith’s 23.5 average
Special teams tackles: Clifton Smith had five tackles and one fumble recovery

• Here’s a little heads up from the forthcoming 104-page Season Kickoff Issue, our biggest issue ever. Pewter Report has predicted that the Buc who will have a sophomore slump will be free safety Tanard Jackson. I certainly hope that’s not the case for T-Jack for his sake or the Bucs', but he has had an awfully quiet training camp and preseason (only two tackles). His big plays in camp were very few and far between. If Jackson should falter, the Bucs have been getting great play from reserves Will Allen and Sabby Piscitelli, so that is some good news.

• Tampa Bay was running a healthy dose of plays out of its “Patriot” formations in training camp. This formation uses the same personnel as Tampa Bay’s “Regular” set, which consists of two wide receivers, a tight end, a fullback and a halfback. The lone exception is that instead of the fullback lining up in the “I” or “Offset I” formation, the fullback is put in motion like an H-back or goes in motion out to a wide receiver position. The athleticism and the versatility to not only block, but catch the ball makes fullbacks B.J. Askew and Byron Storer viable weapons on offense in the “Patriot” formations.

• The Bucs have to like their young group of linebackers. Quincy Black is the most athletic, Adam Hayward is the most versatile and rookie Geno Hayes is the most physical and instinctive. Derrick Brooks won’t play more than another year or two and one of these three players will join Cato June and Barrett Ruud on the field in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Hayes, who was even more of a surprise rookie to me than cornerback Elbert Mack was. The undersized Hayes, who wore number 10 at Florida State just like Brooks did, showed he could hit just like Brooks can. Hayes made several big hits in the preseason that showed off his instincts. His sideline interception against Jacksonville also showed that he can play quite well against the pass, too. Exceptional pass coverage is what has defined Brooks’ Buccaneer career. It will be interesting watching Hayes grow as a player and seeing if he can live up to his potential.

• I feel for the city of New Orleans and its residents. I spent three days in the Crescent City last year with my wife, Elisa, and saw the sights of that rebuilt town in addition to taking in the Bucs vs. Saints game, which was one heck of a contest. The people were warm and welcoming and it felt good as an American to spend my tourist dollars there in a place that needed them so badly two years after Hurricane Katrina had ravaged it. After the Saints game, my wife and I ventured over to Harrah’s Casino and ate at the buffet prior to doing some gaming. We happened to sit next to a couple that survived Hurricane Katrina and they were very friendly and outgoing. They shared with us the personal horrors they witnessed, including dead bodies lying in the streets for days and weeks because there was simply no place to put them. Obviously, rescue missions were done prior to recovery missions in the aftermath of the category three hurricane. They got emotional as they recalled seeing a pack of dogs eating decomposing human bodies for food because they were hungry. This wasn’t a pack of vicious dogs. This was a pack of dogs that included Poodles and Cocker Spaniels. I’ll never forget that story, that couple and that trip to New Orleans. I learned more from that 45-minute conversation with that middle-aged African-American husband and wife than I did in watching the devastation on television for days. I pray for the city of New Orleans. It is such a shame that as the city is rebuilding that it could be struck again, this time by a more wicked storm. A few days from now, Hurricane Gustav is expected to slam into Louisiana. It may not be a direct hit on New Orleans, but Gustav is supposed to be a category four of five storm. Its effects will certainly be felt. If you haven’t had the chance to be charmed by New Orleans, I strongly encourage you to visit that city next year. The touristy French Quarter and Bourbon Street were largely spared from Hurricane Katrina and hopefully those areas will be spared again as they are the largest revenue-generating parts of New Orleans. Go there and spend your money next year to help that city rebuild from two catastrophic storms within the span of three years. It will make you feel like a proud American. At least that’s how I felt last year.

• Finally, the oncoming Hurricane Gustav will almost certainly affect the Buccaneers’ season opener against the Saints one way or another. If the city of New Orleans is out of commission due to flooding from this storm, which I am anticipating it will be, the most logical solution would be to play the season opener in Tampa instead of New Orleans. That means the Bucs would then play at New Orleans (or wherever the Saints would be displaced to) on November 30, which is when Tampa Bay was scheduled to host the Saints. Having the Bucs vs. Saints game at Raymond James Stadium would be an overwhelming advantage for Tampa Bay. The mental stress of the Katrina disaster happening again with Gustav has to weigh heavily on the minds of the Saints players, especially the ones that were on the roster three years ago. The new Saints, such as tight end Jeremy Shockey, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Sedrick Ellis, the team’s first-round draft choice, would be experiencing a disaster like this for the first time. The disruption the Saints will face by relocating to Indianapolis this week to practice at the old RCA Dome, while the state of Louisiana gets ravaged by what could be a category four or category five hurricane gives the Buccaneers a decided advantage in the season opener no matter where it is played. It is not an advantage the Buccaneers feel good about, I’m sure. The Bucs could play the Saints next week in San Antonio or at LSU Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge – as they did in 2005 – if that area is accessible, but the best approach would be to flip the home and away contests between Tampa Bay and New Orleans. The downside for the Bucs is that the team would have four straight road games later in the year with games at Detroit, at New Orleans, at Carolina and at Atlanta. From a football perspective, that’s a huge disadvantage. From a human perspective, it’s nothing compared to the season the Saints are about to embark on if New Orleans is destroyed by Hurricane Gustav.

 


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WATCH Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds and Jim Flynn on select Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. on Sports Zone with Al Keck and Tom Korun on ABC Action News in Tampa Bay for Bucs game highlights and the latest Bucs news. And for the best local coverage of Tampa Bay sports and Tampa Bay news, check out ABCActionNews.com.

LISTEN to Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds each Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. on the PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz with Steve Duemig on WDAE 620 AM The Sports Animal.

 

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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: sr@pewterreport.com
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