Inside Slant

It's only been three possessions. But the Bucs offense appears to have picked up where it left off in the Super Bowl. In 22 plays, the Bucs have produced 10 points, 114 yards and six first downs. Slowly, the Bucs are becoming a dangerous team on both sides of the ball.

"That's the goal," said Gruden. "When you look at the film, we are making some first downs and moving the football and using all five eligible and changing the launching spot. We're growing. Again, this is the preseason. We don't want to discount what we did in the first two games, but at the same time, you have to be realistic. And we're optimistic. We feel we have the nucleus of a good offensive club. Can we become great? That's our goal."

Although the Bucs' offense has made a cameo appearance at best in 2003, it appears to have picked up where it left off during the run to the Super Bowl when Tampa Bay outscored opponents 106-37 in the post-season and averaged more than 26 points per game in its last 11 contests.

In their only try on offense in the preseason opener against the Jets, the Bucs drove 54 yards in 11 plays but were forced to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica.

It could've been more, but Charles Lee's apparent catch of a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brad Johnson was ruled out of bounds.

On Friday, Tampa Bay picked up one first down but was forced to punt in its initial try on offense against the Dolphins. But after Dwight Smith's recovery of a fumble by Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael, the Bucs took advantage of the short field, scoring on Michael Pittman's 6-yard touchdown run to cap a 45-yard drive in six plays.

"Well, it isn't a lot of football," said Johnson. "But I thought last week we came out and made a drive and had a chance to score. (Friday), we get a first down on the first possession, they made a good play to stop us on third down and then we come back with the short field and drive the ball. I think the most impressive play for us (against the Dolphins) was going for it on fourth down. We converted on fourth-and-1, kept the drive alive in the red zone and score. The offensive line was very impressive and I think everyone has picked up their play from last year. I'm really proud of the way our guys are playing, especially up front."

Gruden is reluctant to heap praise on his offense just yet. But it is clear that the Bucs are better in the second year of his system. Johnson will start again Monday night at St. Louis, but the bulk of the quarterback work will go to Shaun King and rookie Chris Simms.

"He's getting more work than you can imagine on the practice field," Gruden said of Johnson. "We take pride in the way we practice. It's a game speed. And again, he will not play a lot more (Monday) than he's played in the first two preseason games. We want to use this preseason to get Shaun King and our rookie quarterback (Chris Simms) a lot of work and try to keep Brad short.

"So far, in the three drives he has had, (Johnson) has produced a touchdown and a field goal and the field goal in Tokyo arguably should've been a touchdown if we catch a football."

CAMP CALENDAR: Tampa Bay closes camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports Aug. 15.

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