Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts: A Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preseason Report

Roster Roundouts: A Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preseason Report



Previous Roster Roundouts: Bills, Rams, Bengals, Chiefs, Saints, Jaguars, Packers, Raiders, Vikings, Browns

If you are in the business of identifying potential surprise teams–and I’m talking actual surprise teams as opposed to “the Seahawks may rebound this year”, the Tampa Bay Bucs are worth a long look in this season of forecasts.

The Bucs failed to land DT/superfreak Albert Haynesworth in free agency despite having the reported best offer: that would have made a big different in team talent, but perhaps it would have made a bigger difference in the perception of the Bucs as having a legitimate shot in the NFC South.  Let’s compare them to one of their division rivals, the Saints, who have the makings of a legitimate super bowl contender:

  • The Saints do not have a running back with Derrick Ward’s track record
  • Kellen Winslow is probably a stronger tight end acquisition than Jeremy Shockey was.
  • Gaines Adams is the best pass rusher on either team
  • The Bucs have the overall defensive track record to support a playoff run while the Saints are treading in uncharted waters

The teams are pretty similar, but the Saints’ advantage boils down to stronger depth on both sides of the ball, and having Drew Brees at quarterback.  That’s the honest to god difference between the Bucs and a super bowl contender right now.  The starting 11 that Tampa will put out on defense this year is as good as any of the last five seasons, but unfortunately, the depth simply isn’t there right now to support a deep playoff run, and neither is Monty Kiffin.

Despite these shortcomings, Tampa’s a fun pick to do some immediate damage in a light NFC over the first two months of the season.  If Luke McCown holds onto the starting job into September, he’s not without weapons, primarily in the middle of the field (Ward, Earnest Graham, KWII, and yes, even Jerramy Stevens), but the Bucs become exponentially more fun to watch if they hand the keys to first rounder Josh Freeman right away.

In many respects, the Freeman pick made the Bucs look like more of a rebuilding project than they really were.  In reality, he’s the most game-ready of the three first round quarterbacks this year thanks to his background: a do-it-all passer at Kansas State.  The Bucs bothered to bring in Byron Leftwich from Pittsburgh to compete for the starting job, but simply don’t appear to be enamored with his slow wind up and shoddy footwork.  Doug Flutie already proved that you can’t just be a statistically accurate passer to get chances in this league: you also have to look the part.  No one wants a quarterback who isn’t tall, thin, has a big, strong arm and a quick trigger, so Leftwich could be one month away from joining Patrick Ramsey as a player who will back up wherever he goes for the rest of his career, despite good accuracy numbers.  Anyway, I digress: my point is that if Leftwich isn’t your guy, McCown is just going to waste your time.  Just hand the keys to Josh Freeman and let him start right away.  You’ll be better off for it, especially so since it appears he can win now.

Once the Bucs sort through a pretty confusing quarterback situation, they can get back to having an above average offense.  Let’s be clear: even if the Bucs go with McCown II, they can win with him.  Last year, the Bucs had a significantly above average passing game behind a career year from reclamation project WR Antonio Bryant, and according to Football Outsiders’ Bill Barnwell, a best-of-decade 81% catch rate season from Ike Hilliard.  For his efforts, the Bucs did not resign Hilliard, and Bryant should settle in as a slightly above average No. 1 receiver.  In the No. 2 WR spot will be 6th year man Michael Clayton, who was kind enough to resurface last season after disappearing for the 2005, 2006, and 2007 seasons.  Obviously, not so hot compared to last year’s crew, but when you factor in that a young, talented OL had a very down year and should rebound, plus the talent injection at TE and RB, the Bucs offense should overcome the regression from the receivers — as long as someone on the team can pick up for Jeff Garcia’s production.

As complementary as I’ve been of the QB situation to this point, Garcia’s impact can’t be automatically replaced.  The Bucs offense, according to Off. DVOA, scored a -6.1%, a -6.4%, and a -15.6% with Brian Griese, Chris Simms, and Bruce Gradkowski respectively leading up to Garcia’s arrival.  In two years with Garcia taking a majority of the snaps, they’ve scored 6.1% and 4.0%.  Clearly, the squirrley one is a difference-maker, and now that he’s departed, the running game is going to need to pick up the slack.

It’s a mediocre defensive projection, despite top talent at every level, that keeps the Bucs from improving on their 9 win total from last season.  Tampa legend Monte Kiffin is officially out, joining his son Lane at UT.  With Kiffin out, the Bucs chose to forcefully oust Jon Gruden from the head coaches’ role–no draft picks were exchanged this time–and he wound up replacing Tony Kornheiser on Monday Night Football.  That was, um, not expected.  Anyway, all national eyes will be on Raheem Morris, briefly the defensive coordinator of this team, promoted from DBs coach after Kiffin offically left, and then promoted once again to head man once the team ended Gruden’s reign.  Morris appears to be a strong choice.  The man is clearly respected by his staff and his players.  He appears more than capable of making the tough decisions that need to be made: it was at his urging that the team selected Freeman.  Morris was on the K-State coaching staff when Freeman was recruited, so he’s immediately putting his job security where his mouth is.

His first defense, however, is a mixture of rising superstars–DE Gaines Adams (2007 1st rounder), LB Barrett Ruud (2005 2nd rounder), CB Aqib Talib (2008 1st rounder), and S Tanard Jackson (2007 4th rounder)–and a collection of misfit pieces who will play simply because they out-talent the backups.  S Sabby Piscatelli is a homegrown prospect who should hold his own at the other safety.  CB Ronde Barber needs no introduction.  LB Angelo Crowell was signed to be the SLB after missing last season with a knee injury, but he might not be ready to go in week one.  The weak side LB is Jermaine Phillips, who was the strong safety last year, posting career best numbers.  The DT combination, Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims, are a pair of former first rounders from 7-9 years ago who busted off their original teams, but have become an unlikely success story in Tampa.

But the Bucs are not deep on the line, they aren’t all that competitive at OLB yet, and they don’t really have much experience in the secondary behind Barber.  To sum it up, Morris has some parts of his ultimate defensive unit, but he’s working understaffed this season.

Still, Raheem Morris headlines the list of first year coaches most likely to succeed in 2009.  He and Jim Schwartz are the only two first year coaches (not counting Jim Caldwell or Jim Mora, who take over two SB ready teams) who have favorable divisions which can be won with a bit of good fortune.  Rex Ryan, Steve Spagnuolo, Josh McDaniels, and Todd Haley will just look on longingly in December while the Bucs try to make an improbable playoff run.  Tampa heads to Carolina and New Orleans in the pivotal month, which means they won’t be dead before then, and could be on top of the world following.



Bucs Camp, One Buc Place, Tampa, FL

The camp battles here are not really as much between players, as they are between players and their own checkered histories.  Here’s what I mean:

Quarterback: Byron Leftwich vs. Luke McCown vs. Josh Freeman

When it’s all said and done, Josh Freeman will be the most impressive quarterback out of the 2009 class.  I don’t think he’ll enjoy as much team success as Matt Stafford will, but Freeman does have some open field running skills, and combined with his strong, accurate arm (and questionable field vision), he’s the coordinator nightmare of the bunch.  My thoughts on McCown v. Leftwich are clearly stated above, but the team really likes developmental prospect Josh Johnson, a 2008 4th rounder from San Diego University with a completely obscene 70% college completion percentage.  Basically, if there’s a way to get him off the practice squad onto the 53 man, they will, and that could mean that it’s all or nothing for Byron Leftwich.

Running back: Cadilliac Williams vs. his own body

He’s PUP’ed.  He won’t play in the early part of this season.  The man that drafted him 5 years ago with the 5th overall pick is gone, and you have to wonder exactly what sort of promise the Bucs are waiting on.  Just one year into his career, he looked like he was Canton bound, but he had a disappointing 2006, and when he first blew his knee out in 2007, it doesn’t now look like he’s ever going to have another 100 carry season.  He’s probably done.

Receiver/Kick Returner: Dexter Jackson vs. Sammie Stroughter

Jackson was the memorial “final Jon Gruden overdraft”, in Tampa at least.  Taken in the second round by the Bucs, the App State product has virtually no offensive value in the NFL, but was such a dynamic college kick returner that the Bucs thought they could translate him to this next level.  That was before they discovered versatile RB Clifton Smith, who was simply better at the craft.  Stroughter is a 2009 UDFA who does all the same things that Jackson does, but comes with some developmental offensive value, as those undrafted kinds tend do have.  You know the type.

Offensive Tackle: James Lee vs. Xavier Fulton

Full disclosure: I don’t know the first thing about James Lee, except that he’s listed ahead of Fulton on the depth chart.  I am extremely high on Fulton as a future tackle or guard in the NFL, and think that Tampa could use him as a LG sooner rather than later.  If he makes the active roster as a rookie, it will probably be as the backup LT, and at the expense of Lee.  Fulton got a second round grade from me out of Illinois, but stayed on the board until the fifth.

Strong Side Linebacker: Matt McCoy vs. Quincy Black

McCoy was briefly an Eagles system LB, but has since become an incredibly replacable player in someone elses system.  He’s challenging Black for the opening day job at SLB.  Both should make the team, but once Angelo Crowell is available to play, it’s unlikely that both McCoy and Black can survive the entire season.

Surprise Cuts?

  • QB Byron Leftwich
  • WR Maurice Stovall
  • TE Jerramy Stevens
  • LB Angelo Crowell
  • S Will Allen

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