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2006 Team Report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Chris Simms
Backup(s): Bruce Gradkowski [R], Tim Rattay, Luke McCown inj

Starting QB: Chris Simms is now “the man” in Tampa Bay. Last season he came in for an injured Brian Griese in week 8, and did a spectacular job. With Griese now in Chicago, this team is Simms’ to lead. He has the capability and the weapons to put up great numbers in this offense. Simms needs to continue to hone his decision making, and to not get so frustrated when the pass rush is on. Tampa will rely heavily on their run game again this year, and that will help Simms tremendously. Chris Simms should continue to evolve into a solid NFL QB under Jon Gruden’s tutelage.

Backup QB: With Luke McCown's knee injury, the Bucs decided to bring in veteran Jay Fiedler to compete with Tim Rattay for the backup job. But, as it turns out, neither will be Simms' backup on Sundays. That honor appears likely to go to rookie Bruce Gradkowski; who has been praised repeatedly by Jon Gruden and his staff. Gradkowski has drawn comparisons to Rich Gannon, which may explain why he's become such a favorite of HC Gruden in short order. Jay Fiedler was waived, which cements Tim Rattay as the 3rd signal caller. What Rattay lacked in game experience, he made up for in upside potential and, more importantly, familiarity with the Bucs offensive system.

Running Backs

Starter: Cadillac Williams
Backup(s): Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham, Derek Watson
Fullback(s): Mike Alstott, Jerald Sowell

Starting RB: Cadillac Williams started off the 2005 season with a bang. He set a NFL record for consecutive 100 yard games to start a career (3), and he rushed for more yards in those 3 games than any rookie RB in NFL history. The streak was not continued and Williams spent the following weeks fighting nagging injuries. Cadillac can be a top tier RB in this league if he can stay healthy. He is a willing inside runner that can turn a dive play into an 80 yard TD run. He is also an underutilized talent as a receiver out of the backfield. With the young and inexperienced Chris Simms at the helm, Jon Gruden will really look to Cadillac to carry the load for the offense. Caddy should do fine, and has the type of game breaking ability that could make him one of the league’s top rushers.

Backup RBs: Michael Pittman provides veteran insurance in case the Cadillac has to sit due to injuries. He is a solid, yet unspectacular player that is best served in spot duty. He has been really pushed recently by Earnest Graham, who had a nice showing in the preseason last year. With the additions at RB, you could see Graham eventually take over the backup role for the team. Derek Watson is a hard worker, but has yet to see any playing time.

Fullback: Mike Alstott is a shadow of his former self. That being said he did have a resurgence last year, although we probably won’t see that type of production from him again. Jerald Sowell was brought in to block and catch some passes from the FB position. He is a very good receiver and could prove to be a nice addition to the Bucs backfield.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Michael Clayton, Joey Galloway
Backups: Ike Hilliard, Maurice Stovall [r], David Boston, Mark Jones

Starting WRs: Joey Galloway played Renaissance man and had a career year for the Bucs. It doesn’t matter who the Buccaneer QB is, Joey will find a way to get open and get it done. Galloway still has his trademark speed and last season he shook off the injury bug that has plagued him for the last 6 years. He looks to provide the Bucs with a deep threat that is a big time playmaker. Odds are that he could have a repeat of last year if Simms continues to develop. Michael Clayton kind of fell from grace last season. And he fell far! He was a disappointment last year for fantasy players. Well, it turns out that he wasn’t healthy last year and played most of the season with a bum knee. So which Clayton do we see in ’06? Will it be the guy that barely registered in the stat book, or will it be more like the rookie Clayton that had over 80 receptions? Only time will tell, but one has to give Clayton the benefit of the doubt. He is a great player that just went through a sophomore slump.

Backup WRs: Ike Hilliard had a disappointing year in his first season with the Bucs. He will be hard pressed to keep his job in training camp. Boston, once considered a promising Pro Bowl caliber wideout, has been brought in for yet another chance to put his career back on track. The Buccaneers drafted Maurice Stovall from Notre Dame; he is a big target that isn’t very fast, but has a knack for making the big catch.

Tight Ends

Starters: Alex Smith
Backups: Anthony Becht, Doug Jolley, Mark Anelli, Tim Massaquoi [R]

Alex Smith is a dangerous weapon at the TE position. He has good size, great hands, and is athletic enough to create mismatch problems for whoever is covering him. He will provide Chris Simms with a consistent target over the middle. Smith can also get good yardage after the catch. He is an aggressive player that is capable of stretching a defense. Anthony Becht is a blocker that will once in a while see a pass thrown his way. Late in training camp, the Bucs acquired Doug Jolley from the New York Jets. Jolley was largely a bust in his time in New York, but had his best seasons under Gruden in Oakland. It's unlikely Jolley would displace Smith, but he could certainly play a role in 2-TE sets in obvious passing downs.

Place Kicker

Matt Bryant : The Bucs were pleased with Bryant’s results last year, and consequently re-signed him to a five year contract. He was 21 of 25 on FGs (84.0%) and perfect on 31 PATs. The one poor stat was two misses from under 30 yards. Bryant averaged 62.7 yards on kickoffs with five touchbacks, which was an improvement over his numbers in that area with the Giants early in his career.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Michael Pittman; Torrie Cox; Earnest Graham; Mark Jones

CB Torrie Cox led the Bucs in kickoff returns in 2004, and started 2005 as the primary KR (24 returns, 19.3 avg.). He was joined briefly in mid-season by WR Mark Jones (5 returns, 19.0 avg.). Occasional backups included RB Earnest Graham (4 returns, 18.5 avg.) and RB Michael Pittman (3 returns, 28.3 avg.), however Pittman has been designated the early frontrunner for the top spot this year. In Tampa Bay’s 30 years of existence, they have never returned a kickoff for a TD.

Punt Returners: Mark Jones; Ike Hilliard; Joey Galloway; Carnell Williams

After leading the NY Giants in punt returns in 2004, WR Mark Jones joined the Bucs last year and handled every one of their punts (51 returns, 9.6 avg., 18 fair catches). His 492 punt return yards were the most in the NFL. Possible backups include WR Ike Hilliard, who returned several punts in his final year with the Giants, and WR Joey Galloway (20 returns, 7.1 avg., 1 TD in 2004). An even more remote possibility is RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who averaged 11.4 yards during his senior year at Auburn.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Kenyatta Walker, RG Sean Mahan, C John Wade, LG Davin Joseph (rookie), LT Anthony Davis
Key Backups: T Chris Colmer, T Todd Williams, T Jeremy Trueblood (rookie), Dan Buenning

The Buccaneers starting five linemen each started all 16 games last season and played much better than expected. Right tackle Kenyatta Walker, a disappointment for years in Tampa Bay, finally put it all together in 2005 and was rewarded with a new contract for his efforts. He has become a very solid offensive lineman. On the other side of the line, 4th-year player Anthony Davis became a fixture at left tackle with 16 starts last year and played quite well. The middle of the line played much better than anticipated a year ago with rookie guard Dan Buenning stepping in and doing a good job for the club. However he may be replaced this season by rookie Davin Joseph from Oklahoma who has the athleticism, power and technique necessary to become an elite NFL blocker. He is good in close at the line of attack as well as in space. Former 5th round pick Sean Mahan started 16 games for the club has excellent quickness and good technique which helps mask his below average strength and power. Center John Wade is the leader of this unit in the middle and brings experience and tenacity to the table. He won’t be confused as an elite player but gets the job done. The team added tackle Jeremy Trueblood from Boston College via the draft and he will be a good starter for the club down the road. He has great size and pretty good foot work. This group really did exceed expectations a year ago and have enough good, young talent to make the jump over the next couple of seasons to a top-ten unit.

Team Defense

Tampa Bay was the top overall defense in 2005. They allowed the third fewest rushing yards per carry and sixth fewest passing yards per game while allowing only 17 points per game. The Bucs are a veteran defense led by Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, and Ronde Barber. All three had superb seasons. They were joined by Chris Hovan and Shelton Quarles who had better than expected years at their positions. Time may be running out on the old guard though. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, they haven’t been able to rebuild through the draft until recently because of the boatload of high draft picks the franchise used to bring Jon Gruden in as head coach. Former Nebraska standout Barrett Ruud is waiting in the wings at linebacker, but Dewayne White and Donte’ Nicholson don’t appear to be studs in waiting. The old guard held up well last season and has been very durable. They should finish as a top defense again in 2006.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE Simeon Rice, LDE Greg Spires, RDT Anthony MacFarland, LDT Chris Hovan
Backups: DE Dewayne White, DE Charles Bennett (r), DT/DE Julian Jenkins (r), DT Ellis Wyms

Starting DL: Rice remains one of the league’s elite pass rushers. Despite sometimes being knocked for inconsistent in big games, Rice has topped 10 sacks in eight of his ten seasons in the league, averaging over 12 per season in his five years as a Buc. He’s a prototypical edge rusher with an explosive first step but struggles against the run. Nearly half of his tackles come via the sack, but his explosive arrival at the quarterback often results in a big play as he has forced six fumbles in three of the past four seasons. He’ll be 32 this season, but has yet to show a decline in skill level. Spires mans the other end position. Though undersized and not nearly as explosive as Rice, Spires is an excellent technical pass rusher with a good motor. He won’t put up elite numbers but is a solid role player. He continues to hold off the younger Dewayne White. Booger MacFarland has never fulfilled the expectations placed on him as the heir apparent to Warren Sapp. He has shown good explosiveness and pursuit as a 300 pound three technique tackle, but hasn’t provided much in pass rush since tallying seven sacks his sophomore season. Hovan rebounded last season after a disappointing couple of seasons in Minnesota. He showed some of the explosiveness and mobility that were his trademark earlier in his career. The Bucs will hope for more of the same this year.

Backup DL: Full of promise in pass rush, White has never been able to show enough at the point of attack in run defense to overtake Greg Spires and become a three down player. He is a good tackler but inconsistent anchoring and gaining leverage against bigger offensive linemen. With Rice and Spires aging, White could finally be in line for significant playing time if either breaks down. He may never put up 60 solos because of his deficiencies in run support but has the ability to put up double digit sacks. Wyms is a valued backup for the Bucs and makes as much money as some starters in the league. Some consider him to be a better three technique tackle than MacFarland, but Wyms also holds up well on the end. Fifth round pick Julian Jenkins is a versatile 280 pound end/tackle prospect who the Bucs may use in rotation, much like Wyms. Charles Bennett, a seventh round pick, is a project as a situational pass rusher who’s unlikely to become a three down player unless he adds bulk.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Derrick Brooks, MLB Shelton Quarles, SLB Ryan Nece
Backups: LB Barrett Ruud, LB Marquis Cooper, LB Jamie Winborn

Starting LBs: Brooks remains the premier WLB in the game and the prototype for the position in Tony Dungy’s Tampa-2 system. He makes up for any perceived size disadvantage with outstanding speed, range, agility, and ball skills. He has been a fixture in the lineup since his rookie year, playing every game for 12 seasons. After slipping a bit in 2003, he returned to form in 2004 with 147 total tackles. His age began to show a little age last season, as blockers got to him a little more frequently than in past years, but still shows most of the range and mobility he had as a young backer. He agreed to restructure his contract this offseason and will remain the starter for at least one more season. MLB Shelton Quarles had a career season in 2005, posting 103 solo tackles in a scheme not normally given to funneling plays to the middle. He has outstanding football instincts and plays the deep middle zone well. He will continue to be pushed by college standout Barrett Ruud, who waits in the wings for his shot at a starting gig. Nece played well on the strong side. Although seriously undersized to fill the traditional SLB role, the Tampa-2 scheme fits his skill set nicely, protecting him from bigger bodies and allowing him to rush the passer.

Backup LBs: Ruud is the heir apparent to Derrick Brooks on the weak side. Big, quick, and agile, he could succeed at either MLB or WLB in the Tampa-2, but fits best on the weak side as a free flowing tackle monster. He would need to improve his cover skills to become an elite MLB in the scheme, but would probably make up for any technical deficiencies in coverage with his speed and instincts. He’ll push for a starting job again in training camp, but if Quarles continues to play to an elite level, Ruud may have to be content to wait another season as a spot player. Cooper was once thought to be the future WLB. He has been unable to bulk up from 215 pounds though and is too undersized even by Tampa-2 standards. There were rumors that Cooper could be moved to safety but his cover skills are too suspect in this scheme. Time is running out for him. The Bucs signed Winborn this offseason to provide depth. He is a lightning fast sure tackler and would fit nicely at any position in this scheme. Unfortunately, he’s been so injury prone that he has been referred to as “glass on wheels” by some Buc followers since his signing.

Defensive Backs

Starters: RCB Ronde Barber, LCB Brian Kelly, SS Jermaine Phillips, FS Will Allen
Backups: CB Juran Bolden, CB Torrie Cox, CB Alan Zemaitis (r), S Donte Nicholson, DB Justin Phinisee (r)

Starting DBs: Barber is another in the long list of veteran Pro Bowl talent on the defensive side of the ball. He is a perfect fit for the Tampa-2 scheme. Though he does not excel in man coverage, his zone instincts are tremendous and he shows tremendous anticipation to jump routes in the short and intermediate zones. He is also a willing run stopper and has averaged 80 solo tackles over the past thee seasons. Like Rice, Brooks, and Quarles, you would think that a significant decline in skills is coming soon, but Barber’s football IQ should offset some loss of closing speed and range. Kelly has a skill set that mirrors Barber’s. He plays well in zone coverage and has shown the ability to make the big play. His tackle numbers aren’t as impressive as Barber’s since the scheme spills ballcarriers to the weak (right) side, but Kelly is just as effective in run support as Barber. Safeties are role players in the Tampa-2 scheme and the relatively pedestrian stats of the Bucs’ safeties over the years show that. In his best seasons, a physical safety like John Lynch could barely crack 80 solo tackles. Phillips is adequate in run support, but isn’t as skilled in coverage as you’d like a deep cover safety to be. He will be pushed by more physical second year man Donte Nicholson. Will Allen fits the scheme well as a former college corner who does best in zone coverages.

Backup DBs: Bolden continues to fill the role of third corner. He has excellent size and is an aggressive slot corner but struggles against quicker receivers. Bolden is also willing in run support. Cox will provide depth. Fourth round pick Zemaitis could play either corner or safety. His deficiencies in man coverage can be hidden in the Tampa-2 scheme. Nicholson is a big, physical safety with the ability to shoot gaps as a blitzer from the secondary. His instincts and recovery speed in deep coverage will need to improve if he is to succeed in this scheme. Phinisee can play corner and safety, but will be most helpful as a returner/special teams player.

Last modified: 2006-09-03 05:47:34



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