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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have completed their organized team activities and mini-camp practices.
With Tampa Bay a little over one month away from reporting to training camp, here are some random thoughts and predictions on the Bucs based on what we've seen on the practice field and heard from our sources.
McCown Should Start, Freeman Could Push Leftwich
Bucs fans are receiving some mixed messages from the media regarding the quarterback competition in Tampa Bay. Depending on which media outlets you've listened to or read, you might be under the impression Byron Leftwich is the frontrunner for Tampa Bay's starting signal caller job.
Not so fast. Pewter Report feels confident in saying Leftwich, while still in the competition, is not the starter — and probably won't be when the 2009 regular season kicks off — if the offseason workouts were any indication. That's what we stated in Pewter Report's recent appearance on NFL Network's NFL Total Access show. Here is a link to the segment in case you missed it.
Leftwich has been with four teams in as many seasons, and there is a reason why. His delivery is too long. He looked indecisive throwing the ball at the mandatory mini-camp practices, which led to way too many sacks.
Luke McCown, who is much more athletic than Leftwich, has fared better, but not good enough. In Leftwich's defense, both he and McCown are still in the process of learning a new offense. McCown has had some shaky moments, too, but the starting job is his to lose.
I'm also not sold on Josh Freeman starting for the Buccaneers in Week 1 as some media reports have suggested. Freeman has shown steady progress, but he clearly has a long way to go. Don't rule out the possibility of Freeman playing in 2009, especially if this young Bucs team fares as bad as their schedule looks. I'd be shocked if the 2009 first-round pick started for Tampa Bay in Week 1, but wouldn't be too surprised if Freeman worked his way past Leftwich on the depth chart at some point.
Ward Will Get More Touches Than Graham
Tampa Bay isn't going to have a "feature" running back, but it appears as though newcomer Derrick Ward will receive more touches than Earnest Graham this season.
The Bucs believe Ward and Graham are gifted zone runners, which is good news for Jeff Jagodzinski and his offense. Although both runners are capable of running inside, the team believes Ward is better suited than Graham to attack the perimeter.
But not to worry – both Ward and Graham will receive plenty of touches. Jagodzinski's offense has plays designed for both backs to be in the game at the same time, which was deemed the "Rocket" backfield under former head coach Jon Gruden.
The real challenge will come if and when Cadillac Williams returns to action. He's scheduled to return for the start of training camp, and if that happens the Bucs will have to find a way to work him into the rotation along with second-year RB Clifton Smith, who will be used on some screen and swing passes.
Don't be surprised if you see some formations that feature two fullbacks. The offensive coaching staff feels the running backs and fullbacks possess the athletic ability and hands to catch the football out of the backfield.
Don't Expect Burress To Wind Up In Tampa Bay In 2009
Some media outlets have linked former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress to Tampa Bay.
Sure, the Bucs might need a third wide receiver behind Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton (the team is high on Brian Clark and Kelly Campbell), but too much has been made of Tampa Bay's alleged interest in the troubled receiver.
Burress appears to be more interested in joining Tampa Bay than the Bucs are interested in acquiring the former first-round pick. He has maintained contact with his former teammate, Bucs RB Derrick Ward, which appears to be fueling reports and speculation.
The Bucs, like many other teams around the league, won't touch Burress until his legal woes are behind him. And even if it is determined Burress did not break the law with the alleged gun incident in New York, the Bucs would still have some serious concerns about the way he carried himself after he landed his long-term, lucrative deal with New York, where he allegedly missed some team meetings.
Will Dexter Jackson Make The Team?
Granted, Pewter Report was not able to watch every organized team activity as the team only opened one to the media per week, but one would be hard pressed to make a compelling argument for second-year WR Dexter Jackson making the 53-man roster in 2009.
Clifton Smith is Tampa Bay's undisputed return specialist, so Jackson has to make a significant impact on offense, but he hasn't really done anything to stand out. We don't see Jackson covering kickoffs or punts, which would be needed if the team were going to justify allocating a roster spot to him. That said, the early prediction here is Jackson, Tampa Bay's 2008 second-round draft pick, will not be a Buccaneer when the 2009 regular season kicks off.
Lack Of Depth Is A Concern On O-line.
We'll have to wait until the pads come on in order to get a better feel for the play of the offensive and defensive lines, but Tampa Bay's offensive line, which was supposed to be a strength of the Bucs offense this year, is looking a little shaky heading into training camp.
By losing Arron Sears to a "personal issue," 2008 third-round draft pick Jeremy Zuttah has moved into the starting left guard spot. That may not be a bad thing as Zuttah is extremely athletic and may be better suited for the zone-blocking scheme, but let's not kid ourselves – losing Sears will hurt. He did, after all, start 31 games compared to Zuttah's five.
Zuttah provided the Bucs with valuable depth at center and guard. Now that he's a starter – and with Sears' future very much up in the air at this point – the team no longer has that commodity.
Sure, Sean Mahan has experience at guard and center, but he wasn't even assured a roster spot due to his $3 million base salary before Zuttah became more than a reserve player.
One area the Bucs are definitely lacking depth at is tackle. James Lee, Xavier Fulton and Co. were inconsistent to say the least at the mandatory mini-camp. The Bucs better hope nothing happens to starters Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood this year. Otherwise things could get pretty ugly, especially in pass protection.
Will Gaines Adams Reach Double Digit Sacks?
Pewter Report has been critical of Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams, and rightfully so. He's notched 12.5 sacks in two seasons with the Bucs. While those aren't bad numbers, the expectations were set higher for Adams when he was taken by the Bucs with the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
After speaking with several of defensive coordinator Jim Bates' former players this offseason, Adams should be poised to have a breakout year in the sack column.
Bates' system is designed to help the defensive ends get to the quarterback, and if Adams can't do it in this system he can't do it in the NFL, period. Pewter Report will have more on Bates' defensive scheme and insight from some of his former players in the coming weeks.
Here's To Hoping Brooks Retires
Don't expect Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks to return to Tampa Bay despite the fact that he's still available in free agency. Brooks, 36, is contemplating resuming his pro career, but Brooks' release from the Bucs appeared to be final when general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris made it fairly clear that the team was embarking on a youth movement.
Brooks is a Future Hall of Famer. He's earned the right to decide whether he wants to continue playing pro football. The 11-time Pr Bowler will wind up in Tampa Bay's Ring of Honor, which likely will be unveiled for the Bucs' throwback game vs. the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 8. It would be nice to see Brooks retire this year so he can participate in that ceremony. Just as it was for Tampa Bay to part ways with him back in February, Brooks' decision whether to play or not likely is a difficult one.
The Position With The Tightest Competition Is …?
Kicker, believe it or not. Matt Bryant and Mike Nugent are two players to keep an eye on in training camp and preseason. Both of them were perfect on their field goal tries during the mandatory mini-camp. It might be too early to say who has the edge, but if the competition is as close in late-August as it is now don't be surprised if Tampa Bay goes with Nugent over Bryant since he is younger and has a stronger leg on kickoffs.
Morris Wasn't Kidding About Being Violent
Don't think Bucs head coach Raheem Morris' decision to have his team spend the third and final day of mandatory mini-camp on a paintball course was just some random idea of fun away from One Buc Place.
Anyone who has listened to Morris this offseason knows that he wants a physical and "violent" football team. Well, building camaraderie at a movie theatre or bowling alley, as the team has done in previous years, doesn't quite get the "violent" part of the message across to your team the way paint ball does.
While he appears to be getting more comfortable in front of the cameras and with the media, don't judge the Coach Morris you see on television or hear on the radio.
In order to truly appreciate Morris as a teacher and motivator you have to see him in action on the field or in a meeting room. Even during the times we've had the opportunity to speak to Morris off the record, only a few moments usually pass before you're ready to run through a wall for the guy. That's how the players feel about Morris, and that's what the Glazers saw in him when they hired him.
Congratulations, Coach Morris. You've survived your first offseason as an NFL head coach, but not without being tested. The job isn't going to get any easier for you, but so far so good from this reporter's perspective.
How Will The Bucs Fare In 2009?
Tampa Bay owns the sixth-hardest schedule in the National Football League in 2009. Schedules rarely wind up being as easy or difficult as they appear this time of year. However, The Bucs really do have it tough, facing NFC East opponents in four of their first five games and playing a "home' game vs. the New England Patriots, of all teams, in London.
That tough schedule combined with the fact that Tampa Bay has the youngest head coach in the NFL in Raheem Morris and one of the youngest rosters in the league, suggests the Bucs are going to suffer double digit losses in 2009.
But step away from the edge of the cliff, Bucs fans. Something tells me that although Tampa Bay could contribute often to the loss column, this young Bucs team will give Morris everything they have and will be more competitive than most pundits believe.
Tampa Bay had to wait 27 seasons for its first Super Bowl. Fans should be able to stomach the growing pains this team likely will suffer through on its way to what Morris and general manager Mark Dominik believe will be something special down the road. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this young team, but their journey should be interesting to watch.