The news that newly acquired LB Cato June is working primarily on the strong side with Ryan Nece doesn't surprise me. Even though June is primarily a weak-side linebacker, the Bucs certainly aren't going to ask Derrick Brooks to change positions or take a back seat. June will probably get work at all three positions, and is versatile enough to be effective at each one. But if he starts anywhere in the current alignment, it will be on the strong side. June is a better cover LB than Nece, but strong-side linebackers are traditionally more Nece's size (6-foot-3, 224 pounds) than June's (6-0, 227).
The longer MLB Shelton Quarles drags out his decision on retirement, the more I'm convinced he's done. Quarles, who was not at the Bucs' organized team activities this week, told the Tampa Tribune that he has an appointment set up for next week for a second opinion on his undisclosed injury, the one that is reportedly forcing him to contemplate retirement. He did confirm that it's just one injury that is at issue, and not several as was the case last year (his ankle and groin among them). He also indicated that he would not take a year off and come back in 2008. If he can't play this year, he said he's done. That makes the continued development of third-year LB Barrett Ruud all the more vital. If he's not ready to assume Quarles' job, what will the Bucs do next? Ruud was solid, but not spectacular, in four starts last year. The Bucs probably hope Quarles will have a decision before the draft, but he specified no timetable. If he retires, that could affect how the Bucs approach their selections in the second or third round.
If Quarles retires and Ruud is incapable of handling the job, could the Bucs move Brooks inside and June to the weak side to stabilize the unit? A move such as that might prolong Brooks' career.
QB Chris Simms took the first snap of OTAs this week and people are suddenly anointing him the starter? I heard that on a Tampa radio station this morning — "Chris Simms is the starter." I must have missed that Thursday when I was at One Buc Place. No one said anything about Simms being the starter. Simms working mostly with the first team at this time of year, coming off his injury, is pretty much meaningless to me. Simms admitted the Bucs do a lot of mixing and matching at this time of year, so Jeff Garcia will get his fair share of first-team reps eventually (both said snaps were divided equally this week, though most of Garcia's came with the second and third teams). Coach Jon Gruden gave Simms the first team reps as a show of respect for Simms' trials last year and because in this system he has more experience than Garcia. That's a pretty flimsy foundation to name a starting quarterback in April when there's been so much doubt surrounding the position. All that said, Garcia's absence the rest of this month due to his wedding and honeymoon does give Simms a chance to distance himself a bit before the next batch of OTAs in May.
I think Dan Buenning's starting job at left tackle is in real jeopardy. Never mind that Buenning will likely miss most of the offseason preparation with the remnants of the ankle injury that dogged him all season. But Tampa Bay's investment in tackle Luke Petitgout means he'll likely start on the left side. The Bucs experimented with Anthony Davis at left guard, a position he's played before, this week. At 6-4, 322 pounds, he's probably been the best run blocker on the team the last two seasons, and with Petitgout's ability in pass protection, that pair could solidify the left side, where the Bucs love to run RB Cadillac Williams. That would leave Buenning fighting with recent signee Matt Lehr and veteran Jeb Terry for a back-up role. That's a dangerous competition for the third-year pro because he lacks the versatility of Lehr (who can play center) and Terry (who can long-snap).
I suspect the Bucs will take a plethora of defensive players in the draft, but I don't think they'll go for as many ends as fans would like. The reason — Charles Grant. The New Orleans end came to Tampa during the free agency period to visit with the Bucs, even though the Saints designated him a franchise player, making it nearly impossible to sign him this year. But I suspect the Bucs will make a push for Grant next year, when the Saints may be unable to use their franchise tag and the Bucs will have about $10 million in cap room freed up when DE Simeon Rice's contract expires.
Speaking of Rice, Gruden said Tuesday that he's doing plenty of conditioning work as he rehabs his shoulder injury from last season. He believes Rice will be ready for at least some on-field activities during the next batch of OTAs in May. And CB Brian Kelly was not at OTAs this week. Kelly (turf toe) is rehabbing his own injury from last year, but there's speculation that he remains unhappy with his current contract.