Copyright 2007

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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:

FAB 1. The sharks (aka the media members and fans that want Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden gone) smell blood in Tampa Bay and are beginning to circle One Buccaneer Place after the Bucs’ 20-6 opening day loss at Seattle last Sunday, mainly because of a failure to show improvement in some key areas that were supposed to be improved in 2007. Those areas include: a pass rush (two sacks at Seattle); not giving up the big play (passing plays of 49 yards and 34 yards); scoring more touchdowns (kicking just two field goals).

The concerns surrounding the signing of a 37-year old quarterback were realized when Jeff Garcia was knocked out of the Seattle game, as were the concerns that yet another first-round draft pick would suffer from a sophomore slump as right guard Davin Joseph was flagged four times and manhandled at times by defensive tackle Rocky Bernard.

Adding to the chum-filled waters at One Buc Place this week was the release of wide receiver David Boston, whose DUI case was scheduled to proceed based on the evidence of GHB found in a urinalysis. Allen, who has taken several bullets from the local media, including a scathing hit piece in the Tampa Tribune on Wednesday, over his tight-lipped ways, was besieged with questions from reporters surrounding the Boston situation.

Boston was released with an injury settlement due to a foot injury, but there appears to be more to the roster move than what meets the eye. Allen may have released Boston in part because he could have been lied to if the troubled wide receiver was not forthcoming in telling the general manager about his alleged use of GHB. Regardless of the real reason, Allen did the right thing.

Yet the way he went about it has irked media members and some fans. Allen has been portrayed by the local media as being deceptive, dishonest and downright dastardly. The reason for this is rather simple. He operates on a “need to know” basis and isn’t too revealing on or off the record. That doesn’t sit well with some local reporters or Bucs fans that can’t read between the lines or put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Reporters are supposed to dig for answers and the truth, but there are some in the Tampa Bay market that long for the days when it is handed to them on a silver platter. That’s not Allen’s style and it would be much easier to just accept him for the way he is.

If you ever read a newspaper article by a reporter or a commentary by a columnist that complains that they don’t “know what Allen’s plan is because he hasn’t told us” it’s clear that the reporter or columnist hasn’t done their homework and doesn’t know the subject well enough to tackle it. Allen doesn’t have to go public with the Bucs’ plans – on or off the record. Good journalists should be able to piece information together based on what the team does and does not do regarding the draft, free agency, the salary cap, the use of personnel and Sunday strategies.

On Wednesday, the media – myself included – wanted to hear Allen say, “We released David Boston with an injury settlement due to a foot injury, but also because he got in trouble with the law and lied to the organization, and we are not going to put up with that kind of behavior.”

But we all should have known that he was not going to say that and the reasons why. I don’t know if any other reporters knew why he didn’t come out with a statement like that, but the reasons are rather obvious.

First, Allen is a by-the-books general manager when it comes to the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement. He knows the rules line by line, and one of those lines is that teams cannot release players due to off-field behavior. Players have to be released due to salary cap reasons or performance issues. If they are injured, the team and the player can reach an injury settlement, as was the case with Boston, or they can be waived injured, like defensive end Simeon Rice was, and the team can be subjected to a grievance down the road.

If Allen were to simply cut Boston due to character issues and legal problems and trumpet that to the media and the fans, he opens the Buccaneers up to a grievance with the NFL Players Association.

The second matter is that Allen is not going to throw any player under the bus publicly. Players come and go each year and any guy who signs with Tampa Bay realizes he will be let go at some point in time or leave via free agency. If a general manager bashes a player when he is on the way out the door, any free agent might say, “I don’t want to receive that treatment” when my playing days are through in Tampa Bay because that might jeopardize the player’s chances of landing elsewhere.

Even when Allen parted ways with Rice he said it was injury-related and barely touched on Rice’s salary issue publicly. The media wanted Allen to be more forthcoming, but regardless of the situation in which a player was released, Allen isn’t going to reveal private discussions and reveal the full story. That’s just not his style.

This makes the media’s job – Pewter Report included – more difficult. It frustrates writers and columnists who let it frustrate them, when if they would just sit back and observe Allen and how he goes about his business they would be able to figure it out.

Instead, they take their frustrations out on Allen and the team in agenda-filled columns and commentary. Allen has 16 shots to hit the target this year and likely needs to hit it at least half the time. In Week 1, he missed. If he has more misses than hits this year, both he and Gruden could be gone after the 2007 season.

And that’s the way it should be. Allen’s fate should be determined by the win-loss column – not the newspaper column.

In 15 weeks, we’ll all know if it was a good idea to be $17 million under the salary cap at this juncture, and if Allen made the right call in bypassing free agents like Patrick Kerney and former Buc Dewayne White, who had a monster game in Detroit’s season-opening win at Oakland.

FAB 2. Aside from Bruce Allen coming under fire for the Bucs’ decision to bring wide receiver David Boston into the organization and then stand by after his DUI arrest, the local media questioned the G.M. about the character of his team, largely due to Boston’s arrest and the recent conviction of tight end Jerramy Stevens, who was arrested for a DUI and marijuana possession on March 13, 2007 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Allen said that the character of the Buccaneers as a team is “excellent” and the facts support that.

Out of the 70 players on the active roster, injured reserve and practice squad, only five current Buccaneers have been arrested as professional athletes:

Anthony Davis (disorderly conduct arrest in 2007 as a Buccaneer)
Charges were dropped after the arrest and the case never went to trial.

Jerramy Stevens (DUI arrest in 2007 as a free agent)
Recently convicted and is awaiting sentencing from both the courts and the NFL in terms of a suspension.

Torrie Cox (2 DUI arrests in 2005 and 2006 as a Buccaneer)
Is currently suspended for four games as a result of violating the league’s substance-abuse policy (alcohol-related).

Jeff Garcia (DUI arrest in 2004 as a 49er)
Garcia pled guilty to the charges, was sentenced to three years probation, eight days of weekend work and had his driver’s license restricted for 180 days.

Michael Pittman (domestic abuse arrest in 2003 as a Buccaneer)
Pled guilty to a reduced felony charge of endangerment and served 14 days of a 30-day sentence in a Phoenix-area jail and was suspended for the first three games in 2004.

The five players who make up the list of Buccaneers who have been arrested account for only seven percent of the roster. Out of those five, no charges were ever filed against Davis, which drops the percentage down to just five percent. Taking away the arrests of Garcia and Stevens, who were cited for DUIs before they joined the Buccaneers, leaves only Cox and Pittman, who has been a model citizen and teammate for the past four years, as current Tampa Bay players who have been convicted or have had to enter a plea.

That’s hardly the sign of a team out of control or running rampant with bad character.

Allen and Gruden have come under criticism for giving some players with bad reputations – such as Boston, Stevens and former Raiders defensive tackle Darrell Russell – another chance to play pro football. Despite the fact that they want to help wayward players and help their football team, they have been vilified for showing some Tony Dungy-like compassion, which seems odd because if it were Dungy doing it he would be praised and lauded for giving these players another chance.

But second chances don’t mean third chances. In the case of Russell, Allen did the right thing when he broke a contract stipulation pertaining to alcohol. Russell was scheduled to start at nose tackle for the Bucs in 2004, but when he tested positive for alcohol consumption, he was promptly released prior to training camp. Russell had only been a Buccaneer for less than four months.

Boston was jettisoned much the same way after telling the team that his urinalysis results would come back clean when in reality they came back positive for the illegal drug GHB.

On Wednesday, Allen was asked why Stevens was allowed to play in Sunday’s game at Seattle after being convicted of his DUI while former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice was once suspended for a game against Seattle in 2005 for missing a team meeting. The answer was quite simple.

Stevens’ situation is different because his wrongdoing did not come while he was a member of the Buccaneers, unlike that of Rice – or Russell and Boston for that matter. The team knew that Stevens would face a trial last week when they signed him and to date he has not broken any team rules since he has been a Buccaneer. That’s why the Bucs are not suspending him; instead letting the courts and the league dole out his punishment.

So why did Allen and Gruden even take a chance on players like Stevens and Boston who had run afoul of the law before? Because it is impossible to know what might happen in the future. Garcia hasn’t got another DUI after his 2004 arrest. Pittman and his wife, Melissa, have not had any domestic issues since 2003.

What if Stevens decides to stay clean in Tampa Bay, turn his life around and is a positive contributor to the Buccaneers? The team would never know without giving him a chance. If he doesn’t, he knows what will happen based on what Allen has done with Russell and Boston in the past.

For all of the “high character” accolades bestowed upon the Buccaneers organization prior to the Gruden-Allen regime, this team is no worse off now than it was under the previous regime that drafted left tackle Kenyatta Walker (arrested for misdemeanor disorderly conduct in 2003), cornerback Dwight Smith (arrested on felony weapons charges in 2003) and defensive lineman Ellis Wyms (arrested for felony property damage in 2004) in 2001.

By comparison, the NFC South division rival Atlanta Falcons have had more players on their current roster arrested than the Buccaneers, due to the actions of defensive tackle Rod Coleman (misdemeanor disorderly conduct), quarterback Michael Vick (felony conspiracy to engage in illegal gambling and dog fighting), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (felony animal abuse) and cornerback Jimmy Williams (misdemeanor marijuana possession). And all of those arrests have come within the last 12 months.

Whose roster would you rather have right now – Tampa Bay’s or Atlanta’s? Whose team has more players facing felony charges?

No, character is not an issue with the Buccaneers, whose current roster boasts some of the most upstanding players you would ever want to meet in linebacker Derrick Brooks, fullback Mike Alstott, cornerback Ronde Barber, quarterback Luke McCown, wide receiver Ike Hilliard, defensive lineman Kevin Carter, nose tackle Chris Hovan, center John Wade, linebacker Ryan Nece and dozens more players.

Yes, the current Tampa Bay front office has a soft spot for Cox, but it is clear after this four-game NFL suspension that he is on thin ice with the Buccaneers. One person within the organization said that without the structured environment of football, Cox’s life could be a wreck and he would have little direction.

Don’t buy the notion that character doesn’t count with Allen, Gruden and the Buccaneers. The facts suggest otherwise. If there is criticism to be levied on Tampa Bay’s roster it is on the basis of talent – not character.

FAB 3. In 2004, there were three middle linebackers that were on my radar screen as I watched college football, scouting ahead for the 2005 NFL Draft – USC’s Lofa Tatupu, Georgia’s Odell Thurman and Nebraska’s Barrett Ruud.

Tatupu, a junior, was my favorite and someone who I had written about in SR’s Fab Five columns that year. An intense, instinctive player, Tatupu was a ball magnet for the Trojans, recording 202 tackles, nine sacks, seven interceptions, three fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, 18 pass deflections and one touchdown as a two-year starter. Tatupu declared for the draft after his junior season.

Thurman, a hard-hitting son-of-a-gun, who played with a mean streak at Georgia, tallied 186 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 24 quarterback hurries, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and two interceptions during his two-year career for the Bulldogs. Like Tatupu, Thurman entered the NFL instead of returning for his senior season.

Ruud, a three-year starter for the Cornhuskers, became the all-time leading tackler with 432 stops, seven fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, one interception and 13 pass breakups. The inside scoop that Pewter Report collected prior to the 2005 draft was that Tampa Bay was honing in on Ruud, which is why he was listed as the Bucs’ Best Bet at linebacker in Pewter Report’s 2005 Bucs Draft Preview instead of Tatupu, whom I thought would have been a better fit in the Tampa 2 due to his production in pass coverage.

As draft day unfolded on April 23, 2005, Pewter Report got it right as the Bucs selected the first middle linebacker in the draft – Ruud – with their second-round pick, 36th overall. But did Tampa Bay get it right, picking Ruud ahead of Tatupu, who was drafted by Seattle nine spots later, 45th overall?

Two years later, Tatupu has been to two Pro Bowls, recorded 242 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. That includes Sunday’s eight-tackle, wrecking-ball performance against the Bucs in which he forced two fumbles and also put a dent in Tampa Bay’s Cadillac, knocking running back Carnell Williams out of the game with bruised ribs.

According to former Buccaneers linebackers coach Joe Barry, who liked both players, the decision to draft Ruud over Tatupu was the fact that Ruud ran in the 4.6 range in the 40-yard dash, while Tatupu was a couple of ticks slower in the 4.8 range. On Sunday, Tatupu looked plenty fast and drew praise from Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.

“I have a lot of respect for Tatupu – more than I’ve ever had,” Gruden said Monday in a press conference. “He is a great middle linebacker. He was responsible for a lot of the splash hits yesterday. He is a fine football player.”

Gruden also had some praise for Ruud, his own middle linebacker, who started his first NFL game as a full-fledged starter, not just a fill-in starter for an injured Shelton Quarles.

“He did some great things,” Gruden said. “He made some sideline-to-sideline plays. He was physical in the hole. He showed up on first down and he showed up on third down. I was really pleased with the play of Barrett Ruud yesterday.”

Ruud finished the Seahawks game with a career-high 12 tackles (although he was credited with 13 in the press box on Sunday) and a fumble recovery. In addition to getting the Bucs’ first turnover of the 2007 season, Ruud made an impact play when he tackled Seattle running back Shaun Alexander for a 3-yard loss on third-and-1 on the first play of the fourth quarter, forcing the Seahawks to kick a field goal.

Those are the types of plays that the Bucs coaches and Ruud himself wanted to see out of the third-year middle linebacker and why Tampa Bay decided to release the 36-year old Quarles, who battled various injuries over the last few years of his career. Ruud played okay in five starts last year for Quarles, who was sidelined at the beginning of the season and at the end of the year with a hurt knee. But he was concerned more about not screwing up than making plays in 2006.

This year, it’s a different story as Ruud is out to become an extraordinary middle linebacker, not just an ordinary one. Ruud’s game at Seattle wasn’t perfect, evidenced by surrendering a 49-yard pass to wide receiver Bobby Engram down the middle of the field (along with strong safety Jermaine Phillips) in a Tampa 2 coverage, in the second quarter, but it was a step in the right direction.

While Ruud has done nothing to conjure up visions of Hardy Nickerson or Shelton Quarles yet, he proved in Week 1 in his sixth NFL start that he belongs on the football field. But he has a ways to go to catch up to Tatupu.

FAB 4. I’d like to take you inside the Bucs-Seattle game a little bit and talk a little X’s and O’s. I had the chance to talk to several Bucs players and coaches this week about the Seattle game, in addition to watching the game again on tape. Here are a couple of the discoveries I made.

On the 49-yard completion to Seattle wide receiver Bobby Engram in the second quarter, the Buccaneers were in a Cover 2 defense with middle linebacker Barrett Ruud covering Engram. In the Cover 2 defense, the object of sending the Mike linebacker down the deep middle of the field is to force quarterbacks to throw the ball up and over him to try to get it to the receiver, who is usually ahead or stride for stride with the linebacker.

But because it is such a deep throw, Tampa Bay’s two safeties are responsible for covering the deep halves of the field, but they should still have enough time to come over the top and make a play on the ball. That’s why safeties like Charles Mincy and John Lynch were able to pick off a lot of passes in the past, because middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson was so gifted in coverage that quarterbacks would often overthrow the receiver for fear of Nickerson intercepting an underthrown ball.

On Sunday, Ruud did a great job of covering Engram, but he lost the ball at the last second and got turned around. Engram made a great adjustment on the ball and hauled it in for a big gain. Although Ruud can be blamed a bit for the lapse in coverage, the real culprit on the play was rookie safety Tanard Jackson as the play ended up occurring on the left side. Jackson allowed Engram to get behind him, which is a big no-no in Cover 2.

At first glance, it appeared as if strong safety Jermaine Phillips was the player who blew the coverage. But actually, Phillips was trying to make a play on the ball despite running all the way from the right hash mark to the left hash mark.

Two other plays worth looking at were the third-and-2 and third-and-3 situations the Bucs failed to convert in the first quarter inside the Seahawks red zone. On the third-and-2 play in which quarterback Jeff Garcia was flushed to the right sidelines and had to throw the ball away to avoid a sack, a couple of things went wrong.

The first of which was a poor cut block attempt by running back Cadillac Williams on Seattle defensive end Darryl Tapp. Tapp simply hopped over Williams and began pursuing Garcia, who felt the pressure and took off. Garcia erred on the play by not getting rid of the ball quickly. The down and distance was third-and-2 and he had two players open within two seconds that could have picked up the first down.

Tight end Anthony Becht ran a quick curl pattern in the middle of the field right in front of Garcia. To the right, running back Michael Pittman ran to the sidelines and was open. It appeared as if Garcia was holding on to the ball too long, wanting to make a bigger play instead of taking what Seattle’s zone defense was giving him. As he started to scramble to his right, Becht no longer became a viable target because no quarterback wants to throw across his body to the middle of the field. By the time Garcia reached the edge of the pocket, Pittman was covered up and Tapp had caught him from behind, sharing a sack with left defensive end Patrick Kerney who Garcia literally ran into.

If Williams had made a more effective block on Tapp, Garcia likely would have had time to set his feet, recognize that both Becht and Pittman were open and convert the third down.

On the third-and-3 play, right guard Davin Joseph gave up immediate pressure up the middle after getting beaten by Seattle under tackle Rocky Bernard. Once again, Garcia, a right-handed quarterback, was forced to roll to his right to escape the pressure. The problem when that happens is that it cuts the field in half and negates any open options on the backside of the play. As the quarterback continues to roll to his right the half-field option essentially turns into a third-field option as he gets closer to the sidelines.

On this particular play, Garcia was almost sacked by Kerney again and had to throw the ball away as he reached the right sidelines. The Bucs want to use Garcia’s mobility to make plays this year, not run for his life.

Aside from the play of Seattle middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, the biggest thorn in the side of Garcia and the Bucs was the play of Bernard, who was much more disruptive than his box score of one tackle and half a sack would indicate. Bernard wasn’t putting up the stats, but he was forcing the action towards the defensive ends and blitzing outside linebackers, who accounted for 4.5 sacks against Tampa Bay.

“Warren Sapp, I don’t know how many sacks he had here, but he got a lot of “Thank You” cards from a lot of other guys for creating sacks,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. “If you’ve got quick, disruptive people inside you can make things happen. Quick internal penetration forces you to go somewhere. You can’t step up. You have to go right or left. The right tackle insisting expecting you to set up over there on a drop back pass. That hurt us. I think the first third down of the second half, we’re never going to get a guy (wide receiver Michael Clayton) that open again. Those are the frustrating-type plays. We had another one down in the red zone where we’ve got an immediate penetration. Some of it is crowd noise and inability to communicate. The set of the center – if I am the center and I’m setting to my right or the left or I’m setting in the middle, it determines the set of the guards. There was some miscommunication there. I don’t know that we were real tight on a couple of occasions.”

After watching the game film, Tampa Bay’s defensive ends had a solid day with Kevin Carter notching five tackles, forcing one fumble and coming dangerously close to two sacks. Greg Spires finished with four tackles and had an impressive third down sack against Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones and was close on another, as was rookie defensive end Gaines Adams. But the Bucs defensive tackles, Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan, did not get ample pressure up the middle to force quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to roll to his left or his right.

Instead, Hasselbeck stepped up comfortably in the pocket and threw the football or tucked the ball and ran, as he did two times for seven yards. The Bucs could really use an under tackle like Bernard to get more of an interior pass rush. Bernard, who has notched 22 sacks in five years, was a free agent just two years, and signed a three-year deal worth $13 million, including a $5.4 million signing bonus, but the Bucs still had Anthony McFarland and were financially cap-strapped and couldn’t make a run at him.

Gruden said that one way to beat pressure is for the quarterback to get rid of the ball quicker. Both Garcia and backup quarterback Luke McCown were guilty of hanging on to the ball too long and taking too many sacks.

“The one time Luke was in there he’s got to hit Becht,” Gruden said. “I chalk that up to inexperience, but again, you get tired of saying that. You’re playing an inexperienced guy in a key situation and the guy is wide open right in front of you. We didn’t make the play.

“There was a time when Jeff was flushed to his right or he didn’t have both feet set on a deep ball. On the deep ball to Joey I thought he could have set his feet a maybe got a little more accuracy on it. Jeff has always been a bit of a drifter. That’s how he plays. I’m not going to press too many alarms, but we had Clayton big for a first down. We had Becht for a big first down. The double reverse to Galloway was really a thorn in my side because we had seven guys on our sideline and they had three and we only got two yards. We were on the fringe in a couple of opportunities, but I’ll say this, Seattle was really good. They are not just going to fall on a sword and just get blocked. You have to block them. They blitzed us three times in the football game and one time we got 28 yards to [wide receiver Ike] Hilliard. They are going to play a zone concept and they are going to force you to run it and throw underneath and protect the damn ball. That had a lot to do with us scoring six points.”

FAB 5. Here are some things that will hold you over until the next SR’s Fab Five:

• Upon further review after watching the Seattle-Tampa Bay game film, I would like to amend my post-game statements about Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks that were made in the Pewter Report Roundtable. Here is what I wrote:

“Linebacker Derrick Brooks still has what it takes to start for the Buccaneers defense – even though he is entering his 13th season in the NFL. Brooks was fresh in the first half, chasing down plays and finishing the game with eight tackles. But age is clearly catching up with the 34-year old linebacker, and three plays illustrated that in the second half. Seattle running back Shaun Alexander eluded Brooks on a play he would have normally made five years ago, and then Alexander bounced off a would-be tackle by Brooks on another run. Then, on third-and-5 at the Tampa Bay 34-yard line, Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren called a play that specifically targeted Brooks after a timeout. Running back Maurice Morris left the backfield and lined up wide to the left and outraced Brooks down the sidelines to haul in a 34-yard touchdown pass to put the game away, 20-6, midway through the fourth quarter. It became clear that Brooks wore down as the game went on and needs to be rested throughout the game so he won’t become a liability in the second half of future games. Brooks only recorded two of his eight tackles in the second half at Seattle. It’s time for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to replace Brooks in the nickel defense with newcomer Cato June, who is faster than Brooks at this stage of his career, and can run with running backs like Morris. Taking a player like June, who has 10 career interceptions, including two for touchdowns, off the field in obvious passing situations is crazy. Sure, the move will upset a veteran and team captain like Brooks, but expect more offensive coordinators to continue to target number 55 in pass coverage the way Holmgren did today. Removing Brooks from the nickel defense will only make him more effective in the second half and help the team.”

After going back and watching the game again, it’s clear that Brooks lost sight of the ball in the air – not necessarily a step – when covering Morris. The play was not as bad as it originally appeared while watching it live. Did Brooks have a better first half than a second half? Yes. At age 34, is he the same player he was in 2002 when he was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year at age 30? Not really. I still think June should replace Brooks in some nickel situations to keep Brooks fresh for four quarters, but he shouldn’t outright replace him. The thing that concerns me is that Brooks wasn’t as strong in the fourth quarter as he was earlier in the Seattle game, and we’re not even talking about an opening day inferno, either. The kickoff temperature in Seattle on Sunday was 67 degrees. Rotating Brooks and June in the nickel defense makes sense and should make Brooks more effective over the course of the game.

• Despite missing almost the entire second half against Seattle with a rib injury, running back Carnell Williams out-rushed his 2005 first-round draft-mates on Sunday. And entering his third year in the NFL, Williams is still out-rushing former Auburn teammate Ronnie Brown, who was the second overall selection by Miami, and Cedric Brown, who was the fourth overall pick by Chicago. However, in total yardage, Brown leads all three backs. On Sunday, Williams rushed for 60 yards, while Benson produced only 42 yards and Brown was held to 32. Here’s how all three first-round picks stack up entering Week 2 of their third NFL season.

Cadillac Williams – 29 games played
527 rushes for 2,036 yards (70.2 avg. per game, 3.9 avg. per carry) with seven touchdowns, seven fumbles (six turnovers), and 52 catches for 291 yards (5.6 avg.) and no TDs.

Cedric Benson – 25 games played
243 rushes for 961 yards (38.4 avg. per game, 4.0 avg. per carry) with six touchdowns, two fumbles, and 10 catches for 68 yards (6.8 avg.) and zero scores.

Ronnie Brown – 29 games played
459 rushes for 1,947 yards (67.1 avg. per game, 3.9 avg. per carry) with nine touchdowns, eight fumbles (six turnovers), and 71 catches for 548 yards (7.7 avg.) and one touchdown.

With Thomas Jones out of Chicago, all three running backs are undisputed starters now and it will be interesting to see how they perform this year as none of the players has achieved the consistency necessary to live up to their draft status. There is a chance that Williams might play against New Orleans on Sunday despite his rib injury. That would be a good thing for Tampa Bay as he has rushed for 327 yards (4.3 avg.) in four games against the Saints, including one of his two 100-yard games last year (20 carries, 111 yards, 5.6 avg.), which took place at New Orleans.

• Defensive end Dewayne White had a fantastic game for Detroit on opening day, recording six tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and one interception in the Lions’ win at Oakland. While at first glance it appears the Bucs made a huge mistake in letting White go in free agency, understand that he went up against former Bucs reserve lineman Cornell Green during the game. White used to get the best of Green in practice on a regular basis, so Sunday’s results were nothing new. However, if White can put up these numbers on a regular basis, there will certainly be some seller’s remorse at One Buccaneer Place this year, especially if Tampa Bay’s pass rush continues to struggle.

• Now that college football season is in full swing, I will be offering up some NFL Draft scoop in the SR’s Fab Five columns once again. I was sad to see that one of my favorite prospects, Colorado State tight end Kory Sperry, was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the first quarter of last week’s loss to Call. Sperry, who has a basketball background, had a great start to the season with eight catches for 103 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener and is coming off a year in which he had 36 catches for 380 yards and five scores as a junior. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder caught 57 passes for 772 yards and six touchdowns in his first two years at Colorado State. Due to his injury, Sperry is expected to receive a medical redshirt year in 2008 and return to the Rams instead of entering the NFL Draft.

• One last note – be sure to stop by the Sports Fan-Attic store at Westshore Mall and meet Bucs strong safety Sabby Piscitelli this Saturday, September 15 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. Piscitelli is doing a charity autograph signing and for just $15 you can get up to two autographs. That's the day before the Bucs' home opener against the Saints, so it's a great day to stock up on some new Bucs gear, too. If you want to avoid waiting in line on the day of the signing, you can stop by any Tampa Bay area Sports Fan-Attic store and purchase a $15 autograph ticket in advance.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for 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:
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