Tampa BayWatch – My Thoughts on the Bucs

The Bucs 2007: QB, RB, WR – Room for improvement or excellent considering ?

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The season has closed for the 2007 Bucs and it’s time to take stock of where we are and what should be done to build on what has been an interesting season. The Bucs finished the season with a trip to the playoffs and another NFC South Division title.

At the start of 2007 i’d have said that either was unlikely, but the divisional teams were poor this season and the Bucs took advantage of some teams on poor runs (early season wins against the Saints and Rams comes to mind).So where do the Bucs need to improve to ensure that we don’t follow the trend in the division and end up as the team at the bottom of the NFC South ? Firstly i’ll look at the offensive side of the ball.

How much of a role will Graham have next season ?

QB:

Current Roster: Chris Simms, Luke McCown, Bruce Gradkowski, Jeff Garcia.

2008 Roster: Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Bruce Gradkowski

Number 7, same number under centre, completely different offense. Last season the offense spluttered to a 4-12 record with Gradkowski calling the shots, this season it’s Jeff Garcia and the Bucs were 9-7. Garcia brought veteran smarts, leadership and turned the Bucs into a ball control offence. Time and again Garcia was able to avoid the rush and make plays, keeping the offense on the field and gave the defense time to recover. He was assisted by a solid run game and dependable receivers in Galloway, Hilliard and Clayton. He’ll certainly be under centre next season but the Bucs need to identify the future of the position this season.

4 into 3 just doesn’t go and I cant see the Bucs going into 2008 with 4 QB’s on the roster. They avoided making a decision last season when they were able to place Chris Simms on IR. This season they won’t have this luxury and one QB will be looking for a new home. Garcia is a lock to be the starter so that effectively leaves 3 from 2. McCown stepped in well when Garcia was injured and in my eyes has cemented the backup job.

So that leaves Grads and Simms slugging it out for the clipboard job. You would think that Simms would be a lock for the #3 job but i’m not so sure. Gruden has never been sold on the idea of Simms under centre and his performances before his injury in 2006 don’t provide a great deal of optimism. On the other hand when thrown in last season Gradkowski didn’t impress either, a weak arm being his major downfall. I think the battle for the #3 QB role could be one of the highlights of Training Camp. The other thing against Simms is that he has NFL experience and would garner far greater trade value if the Bucs looked to trade him away. With this in mind I think the Bucs will keep Gradkowski and look to trade Simms.

RB:

Current Roster: Carnell Williams, Earnest Graham, Michael Pittman, Michael Bennett, Kenneth Darby,

2008 Roster: Carnell Williams, Earnest Graham, Michael Bennett, Kenneth Darby (likely to be on Practice Squad)

After Cadillac suffered a season ending knee injury in the game against the Panthers, the cupboard looked bare at RB. When Michael Pittman went down in the game against the Colts, a trip to the Free Agency supermarket looked on the cards. However, step forward one Earnest Graham.

Graham carried the load in the remaining 10 games and was something of a revelation. With 1222 all purpose yards Graham was both a rushing and receiving threat and has in my eyes solidified himself as the #2 RB behind Cadillac. This leaves the 2 Mikes and Kenneth Darby fighting it out for the remaining spots. Darby is likely to find himself back on the Practice Squad. Bennett is a Free Agent at the end of the season, and although under contract and possibly a Free Agent, Pittman is getting on in years. Pittman’s willingness to take one for the team (he’s even done return duty) may see him get the spot ahead of Bennett. In Bennett’s defense, he did show some nice touches when on the field and does have the offseason to get the playbook down. Another interesting camp battle lies ahead.

WR:

Current Roster: Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Maurice Stovall, Michael Clayton, Brian Clark, Chad Lucas, Michael Spurlock, Parris Warren, Mark Jones

2008 Roster: Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Maurice Stovall, Michael Clayton,

The 2007 WR core was solid but there are concerns for the future. Galloway at 36 and Hilliard at 32 will not have too many more seasons in them and neither Clayton or Stovall at this moment seem ready to step up. Galloway proved that he still has the speed to beat teams deep and Hilliard to be the solid possession type but we really need Clayton or Stovall to step up.

Stovall had his season ended by a broken arm suffered on special teams duty against the 49ers, but only had 10 catches for 86 yards. Clayton played a useful role as #3 WR, 22 catches for 301 yards, made some key catches but he doesn’t seem close to finding his rookie season form. There are so many WR’s on the roster and IR list that apart from the first 4 it’s impossible to say who else will be on the roster. Spurlock and Jones will have a good chance of making the roster thanks to their punt and kick return skills. The others will be fighting it out for practice roster spots.Some draftniks seem to think that WR is a concern for the Bucs as I have seen a few mock drafts that have listed DeSean Jackson of Cal being linked as a possible round 1 pick for the Bucs.

Next post O-Line, TE and FB.

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