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Here are a few things that caught my attention this week:

FAB 1. Lost on those who almost gleefully point out that Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden’s offense was ranked 18th in the NFL in total offense and has not shown enough improvement over the years is the fact that the Bucs’ running game was ranked 11th in the league and it was the highest yardage output by any of the six Gruden-coached teams in Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay recorded 1,872 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. All of these numbers are team-highs in the Jon Gruden era, compared with the rushing production in other years.

2007 1,872 yards 4.2 avg. 15 TDs
2006 1,523 yards 3.8 avg. 6 TDs
2005 1,826 yards 4.0 avg. 13 TDs
2004 1,489 yards 3.8 avg. 9 TDs
2003 1,648 yards 3.9 avg. 5 TDs
2002 1,557 yards 3.8 avg. 6 TDs

Not only did the 2007 version of the Bucs produce the most rushing yards, the highest rushing average and the most rushing touchdowns since Gruden took over the team in 2002, it was the most productive ground game in Tampa Bay since 2000 when the Bucs rushed for 2,066 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and scoring 18 touchdowns back when Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn were in their heyday.

What is even more amazing is that the Bucs’ leading rusher this year was Earnest Graham, a third-string running back. Graham finished the regular season with 898 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns and enters the 2008 campaign as the starter.

Despite still having a year left on his deal, Graham wants a new contract that reflects his ascension up Tampa Bay’s depth chart and has hired super agent Drew Rosenhaus to try to accomplish that this offseason. While general manager Bruce Allen may decide to give Graham a bump, the team may have designs on signing another running back in free agency – one with more speed.

“Jon likes speed,” said former Bucs running backs coach Art Valero. “A lot of guys don’t have speed, but they are very, very productive. Everybody loves speed. Everybody wants guys who can break plays, but if you look at it, which running backs have the most plus-20-yard runs. Adrian Peterson probably has the most – 14 or so, but then the next group – like the L.T.s will have around 10. The next group will have about five or six because defenses are so big and so fast. There are 32 teams playing and you only see maybe two long runs per weekend on the highlights.”

What Valero is suggesting is that even though Graham, who only started 10 games in 2007, does not possess speed better than a 4.6, which is why he was undrafted coming out of Florida, he was still extremely productive and the facts bear that out.

Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay’s 2005 first-round draft pick who is now sidelined with a torn patellar tendon, broke off a 71-yard touchdown run in his first NFL game en route to winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

In 2005, the Bucs had 31 runs of 10 yards or more with Williams, who has 4.4 speed, having 23 of them. Seven of those runs were over 20 yards and his three longest runs that season were 71 yards, 31 yards and 30 yards.

In 2006, Tampa Bay had 34 runs of 10 yards or more with Williams posting 16 of them. Four of those runs were over 20 yards, including jaunts of 38 and 34 yards.

In 2007, the Bucs produced 48 runs of 10 yards or more with Graham having 21 of them. Six of Graham’s carries were longer than 20 yards, including three touchdown runs.

But Graham’s longest run in 2007 was 28 yards, which came on a touchdown against St. Louis in Week 3 and is his career-best during the regular season. In fact, despite a multitude of carries over the past four preseasons, in which he has earned the nickname Mr. August, Graham’s longest carry in the NFL is just 36 yards.

In fact, Tampa Bay’s longest run in 2007 was a 31-yarder by quarterback Luke McCown in the season finale against Carolina. McCown had five runs longer than 10 yards this season.

“Because Earnest doesn’t have that blazing speed that’s a lot of the reason why he didn’t play,” Valero said. “He had that knock on him that he didn’t run well at his pro timing day. Earnest Graham is a football player. I think we have some guys on our team that aren’t necessarily football players. Earnest Graham, Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott – I think they are football players. They have to be able to do it all. They have to be able to protect. They have to be able to catch and they have to be able to run routes and carry the ball.

“At one point in time, I think it was by Week 12, Earnest was 48 percent of this offense. He was the only guy catching the ball. He was the only guy carrying the ball. He was the only guy in the backfield because Michael Pittman was hurt, Michael Bennett was new, Cadillac and Mike Alstott were out and B.J. Askew was hurt, too. He got the majority of the touches and he had yards. He produced.”

So is Gruden going to be content with Graham, a player he trusted implicitly in 2007, so much so that he was in on every snap for six consecutive games? Or will Gruden’s lust for a speed back like San Diego’s Michael Turner or even Bennett, who was acquired at midseason, cause him to turn away from Graham despite his production as a runner being as good – if not better – than the faster and flashier Williams (when healthy)?

This bears watching as the offseason unfolds.

FAB 2. As Tampa Bay enters the 2008 offseason, the running back position is clearly the most unsettled out of any unit on the field. Cadillac Williams is still gimpy and hobbling badly three months after surgery to fix his torn patellar tendon and likely won’t be available at the start of the season.

Michael Pittman, who will be 33 at the start of the 2008 season and is the third-oldest running back in the NFL, is an unrestricted free agent.

Michael Bennett, who was acquired in a midseason trade with Kansas City, is also an unrestricted free agent.

Fullback Mike Alstott, who is also an unrestricted free agent, will likely retire after missing the entire 2007 season due to a neck injury.

Running backs coach Art Valero, who has been with the team since 2002, has also left to coach with St. Louis.

The only healthy, under contract, productive fixtures in Tampa Bay’s backfield are fullback B.J. Askew and halfback Earnest Graham – provided that Drew Rosenhaus doesn’t persuade Graham to hold out in order to get more money.

I think the most interesting situation regarding the Buccaneers running backs will be if Bennett decides to come back. I think the team wants him to return as a Pittman-like complimentary back.

“I definitely see a role for myself,” Bennett told PewterReport.com. “You look at this offensive line and the oldest guy is John Wade. The next oldest guys are [Jeremy] Trueblood and [Davin] Joseph. They’re only second-year guys. It’s scary to know what these guys are going to do once they progress as National Football League players. To be behind a great offensive line that is so young is great. For Donald Penn to step in to play the way he has, he’s playing great. It’s definitely scary how good this group can become.”

Bennett realizes that he came to Jon Gruden University at mid-semester and had a lot of catching up to do. He also knows how Professor Gruden does a lot of his research and planning for the next season during the offseason in the OTA (organized team activity) stage. Giving Gruden an offseason to think about how he could utilize Bennett’s speed could play a role in whether the free agent running back returns to Tampa Bay.

“That excites me and it gives me some hope,” Bennett said. “This is my seventh year and my dream is to win a Super Bowl. The way they have structured this team is that it is built for speed and power. They have great veteran leadership. This is the first team I’ve been on with great positive leadership from the veterans. There aren’t guys bickering in the locker room. There’s no ‘me’ it’s all ‘we.’ Everybody has bought in and Coach Gruden epitomizes what this group is all about. We have no where to go but up.”

Despite the uncertainty he leaves behind in his room with all of the contract and injury situations, Valero is proud of the fact that Tampa Bay’s ground game was the most productive in the Gruden era during the 2007 season.

“The unfortunate thing is there is only one ball and that’s the reason why Earnest didn’t get it until he had to,” Valero said. “To see the value of players like that was great. We’ve seen good players leave only to wish we had them back later, like Jameel Cook. I inherited a great room, and hopefully I added a little something to that room. You’ll have to ask them. Yeah, it’s a little bit unstable at this time.

“The one thing I tried to do in that room was that regardless of whether you were a fullback, a halfback or a joker, you had to know during the spring – and I tried to teach it – that the fullbacks knew what the halfbacks were doing and the halfbacks knew what the fullbacks were doing. The fullbacks could line up outside the box and the halfbacks could line up outside the box. If we had a fullback or a halfback that went down we could still run that package of plays. Because we were able to only dress three or four – or sometimes five – everybody needed to know everybody else’s position. If you weren’t the starter at halfback, you had to contribute to Rich Bisaccia’s special teams. If you couldn’t, you weren’t helping this football team to win. The situation they are in right now, they are still in good hands.”

I asked for Valero to do a quick, exit “scouting report” on his players as he leaves for St. Louis.

On Williams: “Carnell Williams will be back because he has so much unfinished business that he hasn’t accomplished. He will be back and go 900 miles per hour.”

On Graham: “For Earnest Graham, it was great that he had the opportunity to show what he could do because he’s always had it. It didn’t just come. He worked his way into it and he stayed quiet. When he got his chance he took it.”

On Pittman: “Michael Pittman is a great situational running back, but you have to know when you want to use him and he needs to know that going in right away. If he knows that, he’s fine.”

On Bennett: “He got here during the middle of the movie. He had never lined up outside the box and now he’s done that. There was a learning curve he had to get over. He was not the immediate help that I think Jon wanted, plus he didn’t have history with the guy so he didn’t trust him. Michael Bennett has a lot of miles left on those tires.

On Askew: “B.J. Askew was playing as good as any fullback in the league before he got hurt.”

On Kenneth Darby: “I think you have a good player in Ken Darby and he’s only going to get better.

On Byron Storer: “I think Byron Storer, even though he is a great effort kid. He can help Rich on special teams. He’s going to get bigger and he’s a very, very bright guy.”

On Alstott: “Mike Alstott – what can you say about 40? He is the heart and soul of this football team. You get him, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber – some of those guys that wore the orange. What can you say about him? I think we lost a lot when we lost him. Just his presence helps us out.”

I asked Valero if Gruden really had it in for Alstott as his role dramatically changed from the old “A-Train” days prior to Gruden’s arrival in 2002.

“I don’t think Jon hates Mike,” Valero said. “What it came down to and I think the thing that people don’t understand is that the offense that Jon deploys is a very player specific offense. There are plays for certain players. That’s what he feels they are suited for. If we get to that play in the game, situationally, then we do. If we don’t, we don’t. The diminished role of Mike came down because we deployed a player-specific speed.

“It’s just a different style of offense. I think that when Jon came in it was different from what they had done in the past. It was a one-back system with an H-back – a Dave Moore kind of guy on the move. They had a hammer in Mike and a slasher in Warrick. That’s the way they were built. In my opinion, they were built to play ‘small ball.’ They didn’t care if they scored a lot of points because the defense was going to do what they do. When Jon came in, yeah all the money was on defense, but he had a different view of what he wanted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become. Maybe not so defensive-oriented, but more balanced. Where did Mike fit in? He wanted Mike as a closer, but he didn’t necessarily have a guy in the middle of it. Mike wasn’t a guy that was capable of the big play – the big run. Jon likes speed. A lot of guys don’t have speed, but they are very, very productive.”

Valero’s room was very, very productive in 2007 and he leaves some big shoes to fill in Tampa Bay. Aside from looking for a new running backs coach at the Senior Bowl, Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen will have to determine whether to re-sign Bennett and/or Pittman, whether Gruden can overlook Graham’s lack of speed and feature him as a wire-to-wire starting halfback next season, whether Williams will even factor in to the team’s 2008 plans and whether the Bucs need to spend top dollar or a premium draft pick on a starting-caliber runner.

FAB 3. Yes, running backs coach Art Valero is out the door to St. Louis. He had enough of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, evidenced by his comments to PewterReport.com and the St. Petersburg Times on Saturday. Does Valero have an axe to grind? His comments suggest he does. Are there some sour grapes involved because Gruden wouldn’t listen to his input? Without question there are.

Does that automatically discount Valero’s statements on Gruden just because the guy came across as overly ambitious in my conversation with him for last Saturday’s story? No.

I think Gruden has some real people skills issues. I’ve said that before. I think Gruden can be dismissive and probably comes across as somewhat tyrannical or egotistical to some of his assistants and players.

However, it should be noted that there was one glaring omission in the St. Petersburg Times articles regarding the Gruden-Valero saga – there was no mention of the fact that offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir, wide receivers coach Richard Mann and special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia all re-signed with Gruden.

That fact does not support the notion that Gruden is impossible to work for or deal with.

And the Tampa Tribune revealed this gem on Friday: “Had Valero left for a better job or a better opportunity it would be one thing. He left for a better situation. That’s not a good sign. It makes you wonder if others would do the same if they could.”

If they could? Um, Muir, Mann and Bisaccia weren’t forced to return. There was no gun to their heads. In fact, they re-signed with Gruden – for a third term – just 72 hours after the Bucs’ 2007 season ended.

Of the three, Muir and Mann work the closest to Gruden because they are on the offensive side of the ball. It is certainly not far-fetched to suggest that Gruden wants to surround himself with “career” assistant coaches like Mann, who has never been anything more than a position coach in the NFL for the last 26 years and are satisfied playing that role on a coaching staff.

Valero certainly didn’t fit that mold. He grew frustrated because of what he characterized as limited opportunities to advance under Gruden. He spouted off to the media, including Pewter Report, on several occasions throughout the years about his feelings – just not even close to the degree with which he did with me last Saturday. In fact, more than one source at One Buccaneer Place said that Valero had the “loosest lips in the building” and that was one of the reasons why the team did not offer him a contract at the end of the 2007 season.

Not that he would have accepted it, but if he didn’t have the Rams gig lined up Valero would have been let go. And that’s not spin. That’s fact.

There was no questioning Valero’s coaching ability, and his friendly, positive personality made him one of the most liked figures at One Buccaneer Place. But if you go back and look at his quotes in PewterReport.com’s story on Saturday, he uses the word “I” and “me” quite a bit. Somewhere along the way he stopped believing in Gruden – right or wrong – and he wasn’t the team player he was at the start of his stint with the Buccaneers.

Still, it is important to look at both sides of Gruden, who is a very complex subject to study. Valero’s viewpoint of Gruden is rather eye-opening. Here is a segment of the one-hour conversation I had with him when he called me last Saturday morning.

“When we took that one drive down we had 11 plays – seven runs – and we scored,” Valero said, recalling the Giants game. “Earnest [Graham] hardly touched the ball in the next quarter and a half. Earnest carried us [in that game] and [running the ball] is something that the O-line loves doing. It makes pass protection easier when you do run the ball. When you look at it and hindsight being 20-20, you have to ask the playcaller and he has to give you an honest [assessment] of what he was thinking. … You are playing the number one sack team in the league and you’ve got 13 straight passes? That’s putting [the offensive line] in a precarious situation. You are not helping them out.

“There were many games that we went through that we as a staff wondered why [Gruden did certain things] and we never really got an answer to. We moved on. That’s the prerogative of the playcaller and the prerogative of the head coach. The only one he has to answer to is himself because ultimately he is in charge.”

I asked Valero if Gruden used the input from his assistants or if he flies solo on game days with his play-calling.

“It’s pretty much solo,” Valero said. “He’ll ask Bill Muir or Aaron Kromer if they have any runs, but for the rest of us, you can give your suggestion, but he won’t take them. A lot of us stopped giving them to us. I mean … why? You give a suggestion and you’re watching the same game where something might happen and he’ll come up with a reason why it won’t happen. He flies alone.”

If Gruden doesn’t want much input from his assistant coaches on game day, that is his prerogative as Valero suggests. Does that make him a bad coach or a tyrant? I don’t really know. Maybe it does.

But if it’s true, it certainly didn’t bother Mann and Muir enough to re-sign with Gruden to live under his tyranny. Maybe Muir and Mann don’t see it the way Valero does. Maybe they do and don’t care.

The other interesting passage that was a bit damning about Gruden was how he conducts practices. Gruden is a notorious stickler for details in practice so I asked Valero for some insight.

“The main thing that needs to happen is that people need to know what their roles are,” Valero said. “They need to know what their roles are when they come in the building on Wednesday. You need everybody to go into each game exactly knowing how to attack people and I don’t think that is ever discussed. The Michael Pittmans of the world [need to know] exactly how they were going to be used, and not Saturday night before the game – but on Wednesday, so they can prepare themselves. I know that many a game, we would work all week with Mike Alstott being the fullback, and then all of a sudden, he was told the day of the game that he was going to get the ball 10 times. That’s a different mindset the players have to have. And then Mike wouldn’t get it 10 times. The players just need to know their roles. I think on defense, they know their roles. I think they just need to know their roles and what their roles were going to be [on offense].

“Our practices were one in which the play had to look perfect because if it didn’t look perfect in practice, it wasn’t going to be looked at any more and it wasn’t going to be called in a game. It was kind of crazy. There were times this year when I went back through what we had practiced versus what we had ran [in the game] and they were two totally different things. I think football players are football players and they can adjust and they can adapt. But we need to – Jon has a term called ‘value spent and value received’ or something like that – that was a great saying, but we didn’t put it into practical purpose.”

I think Gruden changed and evolved a bit in 2007. If not, Muir, Mann and Bisaccia might not have returned and the players might not have shouted “Gruden! Gruden!” after the victory at New Orleans. But even if half of Valero’s comments are on the mark, Gruden still has room to change and improve as a head coach and a leader.

FAB 4. Why do the New York Giants have one of the most feared and dominant pass rushing defensive fronts? Because they have worked hard at stocking the position with pass rushers through the draft.

Remember when eyebrows were raised in 2006 when the Giants drafted Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka in the first round, despite having Pro Bowlers like Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora already manning the position? Give Giants coach Tom Coughlin credit for continuing to throw pass rushers at New York’s defensive front. The Giants are now in position to weather the storm of a season-ending injury of Umenyiora or Kiwanuka, which did happen this year, or the retirement of Strahan, which could come as soon as 2008.

The Giants have drafted six defensive ends over the past five years and will likely draft another one this April as Coughlin is a big believer in stockpiling talented pass rushers.

2006 RD 1 – B.C. DE Mathias Kiwanuka 8.5 career sacks, 4.5 in 2007
2005 RD 3 – Notre Dame DE Justin Tuck 11 career sacks, 10 in 2007
2005 RD 6 – Florida State DE Eric Moore No longer with team
2004 RD 4 – Auburn DE/LB Reggie Torbor 5 career sacks, one in 2007
2004 RD 7 – Hampton DE Isaac Hilton No longer with team
2003 RD 2 – Troy State DE Osi Umenyiora 41.5 career sacks, 13 in 2007

These pass rushers had an exceptional track record of getting to the quarterback in college, as did Strahan, a second round pick in 1993 out of Texas Southern, where he set the career sack record with 41.5 QB takedowns, including 19 sacks during his senior season. Strahan is the Giants’ all-time leading sacker with 141.5 sacks, including nine in 2007. His 22.5 sacks in 2001 set an NFL record and earned him NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Umenyiora had 25 career sacks at Troy State, including 16 as a senior to go along with a school-record 43 QB pressures. Kiwanuka left Boston College as the school’s all-time leading sacker with 37.5 sacks. Torbor finishing his Auburn career with 19.5 sacks and 52 quarterback pressures. Tuck left school as Notre Dame’s leading sacker with 24.5 quarterback captures.

Stockpiling pass rushers is a theory Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen, head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin need to buy into.

Sure, Tampa Bay just spent a first-round draft pick on defensive end Gaines Adams, who posted seven sacks in his rookie season, including one in the playoff loss to New York, and the Bucs have an emerging star in former Arena Football League star Greg White. But what if Adams or White have sophomore slumps in 2008 or get hurt? Where will Tampa Bay’s pass rush come from? The oft-injured an ineffective Patrick Chukwurah?

What’s great about the Buccaneers system is that new defensive line coach Larry Coyer deploys a heavy rotation that gets all of his D-linemen involved in the game. With everyone seeing the field, egos can’t build up too big because there is enough playing time to go around for everyone.

One of the big reasons why Tampa Bay won Super Bowl XXXVII was not just because the team picked off Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon five times or scored 27 points on offense and 21 points on defense. It was because a lot of those interceptions were caused by pressure from defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires, who combined for eight tackles, three sacks and numerous pressures on Tampa Bay’s historic day.

What’s better than having a dominant defensive end? Having two of them. What’s better than having two of them? Having three of them. That’s what the Giants have in Strahan, Umenyiora and Tuck, who combined for 32 sacks during the 2007 regular season.

Am I supporting Tampa Bay drafting yet another defensive end in the first round a year after the selection of Adams? Not necessarily, although I certainly wouldn’t be against it.

Florida junior Derrick Harvey recorded 20.5 sacks in three seasons with the Gators. Ohio State’s Vernon Gholston has recorded 22.5 sacks for the Buckeyes. USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson has corralled quarterbacks 24.5 times during his Trojans career. All three players have first-round potential and if Allen, Gruden and Kiffin decide to follow Coughlin’s strategy, any of them could become a Buccaneer.

Tampa Bay’s pass rush improved in 2007 with the team registering 33 sacks during the regular season and the defensive line recording 31 of those sacks. That’s up from 2006 when the Bucs posted just 24 sacks, 19 of which came from the defensive line, but in order for Tampa Bay to become a threat to do some damage in the postseason, Kiffin’s crew will need to get back to the days of sacking the quarterback at least 40 times per season.

FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:

• Don’t count me among those who wanted to see defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin leave Tampa Bay. Yes, I’m a big believer in Raheem Morris’ coaching ability and I feel he should be given the chance to succeed Kiffin, but Kiffin has earned the retire to leave Tampa Bay on his own terms. Yes, there were plenty of grumbles inside One Buc Place from coaches and players who didn’t think Kiffin called particularly good games against Indianapolis, Detroit, Houston and the New York Giants in the playoffs. But the same could be said of Jon Gruden’s play-calling in a handful of games in 2007, including the playoff loss to the Giants, too. I was glad that Kiffin was re-signed to a multi-year deal on Friday. Now general manager Bruce Allen should add an additional year or years on to Morris’ contract, which expires after the 2008 season, to make sure that he won’t leave Tampa Bay. That way, there could be a seamless transition from Kiffin, who will be 68 in 2008, to Morris, who will turn 32 this year. Allen has to find a way to keep Morris. There have been just too many good defensive assistants that have left One Buc Place, including Herman Edwards, Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli, Mike Tomlin, Joe Barry, Joe Woods and Jimmy Lake. Allen has to stop the bleeding with Morris.

• I’m confident that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will get the Bucs’ red zone defense sorted out in the offseason. That was the defense’s Achilles’ heel coming down the stretch when the Bucs surrendered 12 touchdowns inside the 23-yard line, forced only two field goals and didn’t record a turnover in the red zone in the last four losses of 2007, including the postseason defeat at the hands of the Giants. What Kiffin really needs to work on is his blitz packages. Tampa Bay has never been a big blitzing team, but you would like to think that given the speed of the Buccaneers’ linebackers that they could collectively account for four or five sacks on the season. Instead, not one single linebacker recorded a sack in 2007. Amazing. In the words of Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur, Kiffin’s blitzes never get there. The blitzes aren’t designed well or disguised well. That should be an offseason project for Kiffin and linebackers coach Gus Bradley. And after installing the 3-4 defense during the OTAs and actually using it less than they did in 2006, Kiffin should revisit the 3-4 scheme and deploy it more frequently in 2008 as a way to get more speedy pass rushers on the field.

• Here’s a bold prediction for 2008. Tampa Bay kick returner Micheal Spurlock won’t even make the team. The reason? Take away his 90-yard record-setting kickoff return for a touchdown and he his 27.8-yard kick return average falls to a measley 23.6 yards. Spurlock hasn’t dazzled as a punt returner, either, averaging just 7.5 yards per return. Despite Spurlock’s legendary kick return, Mark Jones, who is on injured reserve with a torn patellar tendon, still leads the team with a 28.6-yard kick return average and an 11.9-yard punt return average. Of course, he won’t be the return man, either, as patellar tendons typically take about nine months to heal and rehab. Spurlock has only averaged 19.5 yards on his kick returns since his 90-yarder with returns of eight, 30, 23, 15, 29 and 12 yards. Spurlock’s punt returns have gone for four, minus-1, 12 and 15. Spurlock caught lightning in a bottle, but so did Vernon Turner when he became the first Buccaneer to return a punt for a touchdown in 1994. There are better return men out there and I think the Bucs will continue to look to improve this area, especially after Spurlock’s fumble to open the second half of Tampa Bay’s loss to New York in the Wild Card game played a huge roll in costing his team a chance to win.

• One last word from former Bucs running backs coach Art Valero on Tampa Bay offensive line coach Bill Muir, whom he feels takes way too much criticism from fans and the media. “Bill did a great job – not a good job – a great job last year," Valero said. "The job that Bill Muir has done has been outstanding since he's been here. I don’t think he gets the credit that he’s due. He’s been put in some awkward situations, too, with the young guys. But Arron Sears is not going to be a good player, he’s going to be a great player. And I mean a great player."

• Do you really buy all the talk that Jon Gruden abandoned the running game in the second quarter because he “wanted to showcase Joey Galloway, Jerramy Stevens and Jeff Garcia in the passing game on national television?” Let’s think about this for a minute. The argument goes that all week in practice Gruden game-planned to feature Garcia, Galloway and Stevens against the Giants and then he abandoned the run in the first quarter to … feature the players and plays he spent all week in practice working on? Am I missing something here? Aren’t you supposed to call the plays that you worked on in practice? Did Gruden stray too far away from Graham in the second quarter? Yes. Calling 13 consecutive pass plays against the best pass rushing team in the NFL is too much. But maybe – just maybe – the Giants actually made some adjustments that took away what Gruden wanted to do in the running game. Yet that possibility has never been brought up by anyone other than Pewter Report. Did you remember that Graham’s last carry in the first quarter resulted in a three-yard loss on first down? That set up a second-and-13 and Tampa Bay had to punt two plays later. On the Bucs’ second position of the second quarter, Garcia got sacked on second down, setting up a third-and-15. The Bucs were forced to go three-and-out. When Tampa Bay got the ball again, the team had four minutes left in the first half and Graham got a two-yard carry before the Bucs went to a hurry-up, two-minute offense that featured a lot of passes. The Giants owned the ball for 9:34 while the Bucs possessed it for only 5:26 in the second quarter. Gruden made some adjustments and went right back to Graham in the third quarter, despite trailing 17-7. Graham got three straight carries, caught a pass and had two more carries in a row before Garcia threw his first interception. If you don’t believe that Gruden – call him “Ground Chuck” if you wish – isn’t committed to the running game, I suggest you go back and re-read FAB 1. because the facts suggest otherwise.

• Stay tuned to PewterReport.com this week for our Senior Bowl coverage. We'll get heavy into the draft prospects and the players the Bucs are targeting live from Mobile, Ala. starting on Monday.

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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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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