5 Bucs Who Must Step Up On Offense

June 3 - Pewter Report editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds has identified five offensive players on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who must step up their game this season. What do LT Kenyatta Walker, RB Michael Pittman, WR Joe Jurevicius, TE Ken Dilger and WR Frank Murphy have to do so that the new Bucs offense under Jon Gruden can live up to its promise? Click here and find out.

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Pewter Report editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds takes a look at five Tampa Bay Buccaneers who must really step up their games on offense in 2002.

The quarterback position was purposefully left off this list because of its unsettled nature in terms of the depth chart. Naturally, whoever winds up as Tampa Bay's starting quarterback will have to step up his game to help the Bucs reach their goal of making the playoffs and advancing to the Super Bowl.

The key to the offensive line improving over last season's sub-par efforts may be the development of Walker. Last year's first-round pick finished the season on a high note with solid outings against good defenses such as St. Louis and Baltimore. He also showed a greater sense of maturity down the stretch too, shelving his defiant attitude, taking responsibility for his actions and becoming a team player.

Walker must understand that he has an offensive line coach in Bill Muir who won't stand for immaturity and will push him to the limit physically and mentally in every practice session. Walker also must know that if he doesn't get the job done, new signee Roman Oben or Pete Pierson will take his job.

Going against an improved Simeon Rice in practice everyday for the second season should help. But Walker must learn how to counter double moves. With Walker playing right tackle at the University of Florida, he didn't see near as many double moves in college as he is in the pros, especially now that he is going against better athletes on the left side of the offensive line.

Walker doesn't have to develop into a Pro Bowler this season, just play good, consistent football. He was quite effective in the running game last year and must work to refine his pass protection skills.

The Tampa Bay front office knows what it has in running back Mike Alstott, even if new coach Jon Gruden has yet to deploy him in his offense. Alstott is a power back without the speed to hit the home run on a consistent basis. What Gruden and the Bucs offense needs is a speed back with power. That's where Pittman is supposed to come in.

Pittman was on the verge of having a breakthrough campaign in Arizona in each of the last two seasons, but fell victim to the Cardinals' shortcomings in the passing game and on defense -- not to mention falling behind early in so many contests. He rushed for 719 yards and four touchdowns in 2000 and 846 yards and five scores in 2001. He has the potential to top 1,000 yards in Tampa Bay.

If Pittman doesn't pan out or misses time to injury, the Bucs may be back to their "thunder and lightning" days with Alstott as the "thunder" and rookie Travis Stephens replacing Dunn as the "lightning." If Pittman is as good as advertised, Gruden will have his choice of weapons to throw at opposing defenses.

All three of his backs -- Pittman, Alstott and Stephens -- can catch the ball. Alstott brings the power. Stephens brings the speed. Pittman was signed to supply both.

Whether or not the Bucs sign a veteran receiver after June 1, Jurevicius must play like a No. 2 receiver this year, even if he winds up designated the No. 3 receiver. If the Bucs manage to sign a player such as Keenan McCardell or a Derrick Alexander in free agency, it only makes the team stronger at the receiver position with Jurevicius as the third option.

Jurevicius is poised to become a No. 2 wide receiver based on last year's breakthrough season with the New York Giants. He posted career highs in catches (51), yards (706), and touchdowns (3), which comprised half of his four-year NFL totals, which are 102 career catches for 1,442 yards and five scores.

Although he isn't a blazer, Jurevicius has five catches of 40 yards or more in his career, including a 71-yarder. He has shown a propensity for taking advantage of size and talent mismatches when paired up against lesser nickel corners when he has played in three-receiver sets.

The Bucs were impressed with Jurevicius at the team's post-draft mini-camp, and aren't under the gun to sign either McCardell, Alexander or Antonio Freeman, who is also expected to be released after June 1. The real problems begin on offense if Jurevicius doesn't step his game up and the Bucs are forced to rely on rookie Marquise Walker to produce.

Tampa Bay hasn't had a tight end put up big numbers since Jackie Harris posted 62 catches for 751 yards in Sam Wyche's offense in 1995. Dilger will be expected to work the seams down the middle of the field and make big catches in Gruden's offense. He has the potential to post over 50 receptions for 500 yards in this scheme.

Dilger's reputation will force teams to play him honestly at the start of the season. But his Pro Bowl credentials won't hold up without production, and he won't be able to draw defenders towards him and away from the wide receivers if he isn't catching the ball well. Because the tight end is a legitimate weapon in Gruden's offense, it is also an effective decoy. How effective Dilger is at making plays down the middle will determine how often defenses will be able to double-team Keyshawn Johnson.

Dilger must also continue to be a force in the running game. While Gruden will put the air in the ball a bit more than Tony Dungy's teams, he is a run-first coach. Dilger must be able to seal off the defensive end or outside linebacker to allow the running backs to turn the corner on off-tackle or sweep plays.

The cupboard isn't bare behind Dilger. Marco Battaglia is a capable tight end, but probably isn't in Dilger's class just yet. The Bucs offense is far more dangerous starting Dilger and Battaglia as opposed to Battaglia and Todd Yoder.

Perhaps no other Bucs receiver is as flashy as Murphy, who is in his second offseason with the Bucs since being signed after the August cutdowns in 2000 after he was released by the Chicago Bears. Murphy, who is making the position switch to receiver after playing running back at Kansas State and with the Bears, has the tools to be a good receiver in the NFL -- just not the experience.

But with the Bucs stockpiling the receiver position with veterans such as Jurevicius, E.G. Green and Keith Poole, in addition to rookies Walker and Aaron Lockett, Murphy must stop just flashing potential. He needs a consistent glow about him.

Murphy, who is one of the faster players on the team and a solid kick returner and special teams player, is capable of becoming more than just a fifth receiver. He has worked extremely hard on his route running, catching the ball and learning the nuances of the receiver position, but must make some strides this season.

He's already had half a year on the practice squad and a year and half on the active roster. His developmental time may be limited to just this year. Beating out players like Poole, Karl Williams and Milton Wynn would go along way in showing the team that he's ready to challenge for the fourth receiver spot, or even the No. 3, depending on how big his strides are this August.

All PewterReport.com photos are courtesy of Pewter Report director of photography Cliff Welch unless noted otherwise

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com

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