By Jeff Berlinicke
Forget 2002. It's over.
When the Bucs travel to face the Minnesota Vikings in their regular season opener on Sunday, they may feature as many as eight rookies in the starting lineup. The days of Pittman, McCardell, Keyshawn…
The offensive line will be almost entirely new and that isn't a bad thing compared to last year's standards. New receivers, a new feature back, a quarterback two removed from Brad Johnson, and a defense that is slowly becoming more Greg Spires than Warren Sapp.
When coach Jon Gruden took over in 2002, he came in with a veteran team and a reputation for not being a rookie-friendly coach. He won with an inherited team and has posted two straight losing seasons since trying to make this team his own.
It hasn't worked.
Fortunately, Gruden seems to have seen the need for youth, which accounts for the 2005 team, one that might need to win to save Gruden's job.
He's taking some biog chances. At least one rookie – Dan Buenning – will start on the offensive line, and other players with little starting experience – Jeb Terry, Anthony Davis, and Sean Mahan – will receive a lot of time. Putting youngsters in front of a quarterback with all the mobility of a cruise ship is risky, but it sure beats last year's edition of veterans who were way over the hill or simply weren't that good.
Gruden has a rookie who will be carrying the ball 25 times a game in Cadillac Williams. Williams will be replacing incumbent Michael Pittman in another move where youth will be served.
It will be the same story on defense. Dewayne White has looked like an impact player since being drafted by the Bucs in 2003, and don't be surprised if rookie Barrett Ruud isn't starting by Week 8.
Now the roster turnover doesn't mean that the Bucs will be better, although worse would be a stretch. What it means is that, if the Bucs don't start off 3-3 at the least, this is a team that could be playing for 2006 rather than 2005. With their salary cap woes, but Bucs aren't out of the woods yet. More big names will be cut loose at the end of this season, win or lose. It's part of the new NFL order.
It's a good move, going with youth, no matter how hard Gruden has to grit his teeth. It's only a year late.
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