Now that Tampa Bay has a depth chart, Jon Gruden is no doubt burning what few hours he takes each night to sleep to devise a rotation for Friday's preseason opener against New England.
If you think the first preseason game is a waste of time, think again. The Bucs haven't played a live down since December. They've only been in pads about two weeks. And they've been performing in controlled situations where, more often than not, one side had a good idea what the other is doing.
The biggest benefit to the coaching staff will be the film session afterward. They can take specific formations and see how a defense will react. They can gauge how a player physically and mentally reacts in a game. And then the sorting out process for the 2007 roster can really begin.
Who will play where and for how long? Well, Gruden won't tell us (he said as much on Wednesday). So he's left it up to people like me to speculate. In this edition of Postscripts, I break down the offensive positions, where the playing time will go and what you might see. Look for the defensive preview on Friday.
Jeff Garcia will likely play no more than a quarter, perhaps less. This is the moment Gruden has been waiting for since he worked out Jeff Garcia in 1999. He finally gets to see Garcia pull the strings in a Gruden-coached offense. That's why I think Garcia may play the whole quarter. This isn't the normal veteran quarterback situation. Garcia's never played with this group of receivers, and he'll need more reps to get his timing down.
Luke McCown will come next, followed likely by Bruce Gradkowski. Earlier this week Gruden ruled out Simms for the game due to his sore elbow (I'm still trying to figure out why Simms is No. 3 on the depth chart, given his inactivity). Therefore, McCown and Gradkowski will probably split the additional time, giving them each about 20 minutes to impress Gruden.
I think the formations will be rather vanilla — they usually are in the preseason. Plus, you probably won't see the shotgun more than five times. But the Bucs need to use the formation at least that much to get the formation on film, with defensive reactions, so they can figure out what adjustments they need to make. I think that's critical with a formation that Gruden has never used before.
|Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden can't wait to see his new toy, Jeff Garcia, in action. (AP)|
Cadillac Williams will likely see less than a quarter. Gruden implied that on Tuesday.
"He's going to get a couple of carries, and he's going to be an observer for a lot of the time," Gruden said.
Williams seems to have his old burst back, and Gruden definitely wants to preserve that. He'll save Williams for later in the preseason.
Michael Pittman will get about a quarter's worth of work. Gruden knows what the back can do for him. So, around the middle of the second quarter expect to see "Mr. August," Earnest Graham, carrying the ball. Graham, Kenneth Darby and Lionel Gates will probably rotate carries for the final 35 minutes of the game.
I want to see Darby catch the football out of the backfield. That's supposed to be one of his key assets. I also want to see Gates hang on to the ball. He's had problems with that in training camp, and Gruden isn't kind to those who fumble repeatedly. Graham will be his steady self, I believe.
By the way, starting fullback Mike Alstott might not play Friday, according to Gruden. He's sore (his words, not mine). Expect Alstott not to play, and for B.J. Askew and Byron Storer to split the playing time.
Don't be surprised if Joey Galloway doesn't play at all on Friday. Gruden didn't say as much, but Galloway didn't play in the first preseason game last year, and no player on the roster gets the kind of cautious treatment Galloway does. But it's for a good reason. Just look at his numbers the past two seasons — and his history of injuries. The passing game takes a nosedive if he gets hurt.
|Wide receiver David Boston is looking forward to getting some live game reps. (Getty)|
"Boston will get a look at flanker against New England, and his versatility is allowing us to do that," Gruden said.
Otherwise, expect a lot of rotation at wide receiver. Ike Hilliard doesn't need to play that much, so he'll probably cede some time to Paris Warren, who is now in a fight to make this team. Warren has been on the roster for two years, but has never cracked the Top 4 receivers on the depth chart. So what's missing? I think he's been exposed as a system wide receiver, one that worked well in Urban Meyer's system at Utah, but not in a pro-set system like Tampa Bay's. This is his last chance to prove that wrong.
Also, watch Chad Owens. If he shows some real ability at wide receiver he can make up some ground on Mark Jones in the return race. Whoever wins the return job will be the No. 6 or No. 7 wide receiver, and I think the Bucs think they can count on Jones more in that regard.
Alex Smith will start, Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens will rotate in and they'll all be done by the third quarter. I think this is one of the most secure positions in camp. These three, barring injury, will make the cut — and no one else. Gruden likes the trio and hasn't spoken in-depth about the other tight ends in camp.
Keep an eye on how many times Smith is targeted. One of the keys to Garcia's game is his ability to check down to his tight ends and running backs. Garcia has made some tight ends look very good during his career. Smith will be nearby when plays break down, and he has reliable hands. So does Becht.
Stevens? No one's really sure about his hands. He's dropped enough passes in his career to develop a reputation for having hands of stone. I won't pass judgment yet. But if he drops an open pass in the flat, the questions will begin. Stevens can be a big weapon in this offense, but only if he's reliable.
Luke Petitgout won't play. Now, does that mean Anthony Davis or Donald Penn will start at left tackle? I think Davis will, because he's worked there with the first team in camp since Petitgout started nursing his sore back.
I'm really interested in the guard play, because more than anything those two will determine Williams' success running inside this year. Gruden can't stop raving about right guard Davin Joseph, and for good reason. He's starting to get it now entering his second season. He's physically beating tackles in practice. He's getting good breaks off the line of scrimmage. Plus, he actually seems stronger this year and more confident. He seems to have made the progression from rookie to young veteran rather seamlessly, and taken to Gruden's desire that he be a team leader.
|Left guard Arron Sears gets his first chance to impress Buccaneers coaches on Friday. (Getty)|
The Bucs want Sears to be their starting left guard. They've wanted that since they drafted him. They believe he can do for them on the left side what Joseph will do on the right. Sears' play in camp has been solid. He seems to have a grasp of the concepts, is physically holding his own with defensive tackles and is coming off the snap quickly. Now, will he do all that on Friday? Put all that together in a preseason game and the competition at left guard will slowly disappear.
"If he does what he's doing out here, it's not going to be a question," Gruden said Tuesday in Orlando. "He's got to go out there and do it against New England."
On the backup front, I want to see Dan Buenning take live snaps at center; I want to see seventh-round pick Chris Denman or Dennis Roland step up in the race to back up Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle; and I want to see what all the fuss is about Penn. He's backing up Petitgout, and Gruden keeps talking about the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Penn after, what it seems, every press conference. Let's see what he can do in a preseason game before we talk about him making the roster.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors.