By Jeff Berlinicke
Forget the first two games of this lackluster preseason and pay no mind to Thursday's finale against the Houston Texans. All three are meaningless, rookie free agents taking up chunks of time in the first two, and the veterans will only get a few snaps against the Texans.
The one game coaches always take most serious in Game 3, and the Bucs get a failing grade in a lackluster 17-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Saturday. It makes you wonder if these are the same old Bucs that have fallen so fast and so far from the glorious Super season of 2002.
If you compare this Bucs team to the team that went 5-11 last year, do you see any real changes? Same old quarterback and wide receivers, a new Cadillac in the backfield who has barely played this summer and, unless coach Jon Gruden ha a brain camp, he will play sparingly on Thursday.
The offense line hasn't improved a bit and already lost Derrick Deese for the season and will be missing Kenyatta Walker for several weeks.
On defense, the defensive line still isn't stopping the run, although to be fair, Anthony McFarland hasn't played in the last two weeks after a death in the family, Jeff Gooch will be out for a large part of the season, even though rookie Barrett Ruud has been very impressive and is the heir apparent to Derrick Brooks.
The battle to finally find a consistent kicker is between two guys with barely any experience.
It's the Same Old Bucs, and I challenge anyone who can point out how this team doesn't end up in last place in the NFC Central. No questions have been answered, no real surprises have emerged and it would be a shock if, on Sept. 11, the day after the opener at Minnesota, we aren't having the same discussions as last year.
Williams and Ruud are the only really valuable additions to the team, and they are replacing players who weren't that bad in the first place. If the Bucs are still waiting to scan the waiver wires, fat chance of finding much there except scrap heaps. On the other hand, with the Bucs cowering under the salary cap, they don't have much money to spend anyway.
Gruden may still find a way to work some magic with this team. The defense is still one of the best in the league and McFarland will help a great deal when he returns, but, remember, he's coming off a series of injuries.
Bottom line is, the Bucs that will suit up against Minnesota were the Bucs that lost to a winless Miami team on Saturday. The Bucs have 14 days to figure something out.
COMMENTARY: Are These The Same Old Bucs?
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