John Crist: We know that head coach Jon Gruden falls in and out of love with quarterbacks all the time, but it certainly seems like Jeff Garcia is getting a raw deal just a year removed from taking the Buccaneers to a division title and earning a Pro Bowl berth. Gruden never wanted to let Brian Griese go in the first place, so is he just playing favorites once again?
Matthew Postins: I've always described Gruden as a Flavor-of-the-Month coach, and right now Griese is pretty tasty. Now Griese wasn't gangbusters on Sunday, but he got the victory and Garcia didn't against New Orleans, and deep down that's all that really matters to Gruden. As far as Garcia is concerned, you must take into account that he missed part of camp with a calf injury and now has other minor bang-ups. But after the Falcons victory, Gruden said that injuries weren't the reason for Garcia's benching – he wasn't talking that way before the game.
I think what Garcia is now experiencing is the fickleness of Gruden, much like Brad Johnson, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay have in the past few years in Tampa Bay. Garcia gave up a lot of himself to help the Bucs to a division title last year, and it was a love-in between the two. Now there's a rift that no one can deny. Garcia deserves more than he's getting, and I'm convinced he won't play again this year unless Griese gets hurt.
You know, given the chance, I think Gruden could find a way to screw up Peyton Manning. But that's just my opinion.
JC: Carnell Williams was one of the better running backs in the league as a rookie, although "Cadillac" hasn't been the same since because of all those injuries. Tell us what Earnest Graham brings to the table, and why did it take him so many years to finally get a shot as a starting running back in this league? Additionally, will we see a lot of Warrick Dunn, too?
MP: Graham is a bowling-ball back. That is, not much is going to stop him on the first hit. He just seems to kind of bounce off of defenders. The past two games he's had long runs, including a 68-yard touchdown run against Atlanta last Sunday, but that's a bit of an anomaly for him. He's going to run between the tackles, get you tough yards and move the chains. The reason it took him so long to get a chance is because the Bucs had Michael Pittman, and Pittman was a guy Gruden liked because of his versatility. As injuries wore on the roster last season, Gruden had no choice but to play Graham and stumbled into a gem of a player.
As for Dunn, he had 12 carries for 49 yards and three receptions for 21 yards last week against Atlanta. That's about right for the 33-year-old back, who has added some electricity to this backfield this season. He had nearly as many touches as Graham, and it's worked that way the past two weeks.
Keep in mind that Williams can come off the PUP after Week 6. If he's finally 100 percent and able to get into game shape by November, the Bucs will be stacked in the backfield.
JC: Like Cadillac, Michael Clayton has also fallen off the face of the earth after an outstanding rookie campaign. He reeled in 80 balls for 1,193 yards right out of LSU, yet he's caught only 88 passes in 41 games – spanning more than three full seasons – since then. Wasn't he supposed to be Tampa Bay's version of Roy Williams in Detroit? What gives?
MP: That is perhaps the most perplexing question in Tampa Bay since I started covering the Bucs in 2004. Like most, I expected this guy to be their No. 1 receiver, or at least 1-A by now. I think three factors are at work here. First, injuries have taken a toll on Clayton. He's missed parts of each of the last three seasons. Second, Gruden's reliance on veteran players has cut into Clayton's potential production. Clayton put up his huge numbers because Joey Galloway missed the first half of 2004. Clayton was their only option. With Galloway and Ike Hilliard healthy the past two seasons, the Bucs are most reliant on those two players for receptions. Third, I don't think Clayton asks for the ball enough. Some receivers want to catch the football. The impression I've always gotten from Clayton is that if the ball comes his way, great. If not, so be it. For all of Terrell Owens' and Randy Moss' bluster, they want the football every play. I don't think Clayton does, and I think that's why the team won't pick up the final year of his contract in 2009.
This tells you all you need to know: Whenever someone asks GM Bruce Allen about Clayton's lack of production, he always talks about Clayton's value as a blocker and special-teams player. Yeah, Bruce, but he's a wide receiver. He's supposed to catch footballs. And Clayton doesn't do it nearly enough.
I see him as a player that will totally rip the Bucs in print once he gets the chance. I can't wait to read that interview.
JC: He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he finally calls it a career, but Derrick Brooks appears to have finally hit a wall. He's battling a bad hamstring and only has six tackles in the first two games of the season, plus I hear his streak of 194 consecutive starts could be in jeopardy. How much does Brooks have left, and what's the contingency plan behind him?
MP: He got to 194 straight starts on Sunday, but he sat all week and didn't practice leading up to the game. The Bucs could follow a similar regimen with Brooks for the foreseeable future. Brooks and the Bucs actually caught a break in that the defense held the Falcons to four plays or fewer on seven of their 11 offensive drives. That meant Brooks didn't see much action, and the Bucs didn't have to dip into their reserves.
Now if for some reason Brooks is unable to play on Sunday, the Bucs can do two things: They could elevate backup Adam Hayward to the starting lineup at weak-side linebacker. But the more likely scenario is to move strong-side linebacker Cato June to Brooks' spot and elevate June's backup, Quincy Black.
Brooks is certainly not the player he was three or four years ago, but he is still considered a solid player and contributor to this defense. And when he's healthy, like last season, he can approach 150 tackles. But a physical breakdown was inevitable. This could be the start of the downhill slide. But folks have written Brooks off for the past two years. I'll believe it when I see it.
JC: New left tackle John St. Clair had to deal with Dwight Freeney in Week 1 and Julius Peppers in Week 2, but he can't take a breather just yet. Gaines Adams, who is coming off a two-sack performance, will line up across from him Sunday. How has the former first-rounder progressed so far, and who's career could you see him emulating one of these days?
MP: Last year I made sure our readers understood that the average production for a defensive end selected in the top 10 of the NFL Draft was six sacks during his rookie season. Lo and behold, Adams had exactly six sacks. He actually lost weight but got stronger during the offseason, if that makes sense. But he's not getting pushed around, so he must have done something right. He's not just a pure speed rusher anymore, though that is still his best move. He's improved his repertoire under respected line coach Larry Coyer, and that was on display against Atlanta.
The Bucs would have no problem if he became the next Lee Roy Selmon. But his lean body type and speed reminds me more of Simeon Rice, the former Bucs DE who ironically was released to make room for Adams last year. He doesn't quite have Rice's overall speed, but they're similarly quick, agile and able to get around the edge. Plus, I think Adams has embraced helping out on the run, something Rice didn't always do.
Mr. St. Clair will have his hands full on Sunday.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this three-part series, where John answers five questions from Matthew, on Thursday.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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