Observation Deck: Camp's best, worst

Training camp ended on Thursday in Orlando, and after nearly three weeks of workouts there have been plenty of changes to the roster and the depth chart. In this edition of "Observation Deck," I bring you the best five stories and the worst five stories to come out of training camp 2007.

The best stories

Luke McCown

For more on McCown, you can read my column on the former Browns quarterback by clicking here. I was one of the first to bring you a story about McCown's rise at training camp.

At one point this offseason McCown could have easily been moved to the waiver wire, and that likely would have happened if Jake Plummer reported to training camp. There just aren't enough snaps to spread around to five quarterbacks.

Plummer's absence, plus Chris Simms' struggles opened the door for either McCown and Gradkowski to earn the backup job and McCown grabbed the opportunity by the throat. He doesn't appear inclined to let go, either.

From possible roster cut to No. 2 quarterback in just a few months? Then, throw in his rehabilitation from a knee injury last year, and there's no doubt he's the best story to come out of this training camp.

Jovan Haye

Another great training camp story. The former Panthers draft pick had been on Tampa Bay's radar for two years before they finally signed him in October of last year.

Haye played mainly as a run specialist at defensive end a year ago, but his play and hard work this offseason allowed the Bucs to trust him as a potential full-time starter at one of its most important defensive positions — under tackle.

Defensive line coach Larry Coyer likes his progress.

"He has a tremendous feel for balance, and he can go," Coyer said. "It's a combination of speed and balance, and he can be a really good pass rusher. It's a matter of putting moves together."

How did the Bucs find this guy? Here's how. I had an exclusive interview with Bucs director of pro personnel Mark Dominik, who walked me through the process.

From an October pickup to possible opening-day starter, Haye's story is a perfect example of why some players can't — and shouldn't — let go of the game.

Kenneth Darby

A year ago at this time the Alabama running back was preparing for his senior year with a heavy heart. He had just found out his father had been diagnosed with leukemia. Just a couple of months later, his father died. Much less importantly, Darby's NFL draft stock plummeted.

The Bucs took a gamble on Darby's talent in the seventh round, a far cry from where some people though Darby would be selected a year ago. Some considered him a first-day talent.

So the Bucs got first-day talent at the end of the draft? No wonder head coach Jon Gruden is so happy with Darby.

Or it could be the 73 yards rushing he dropped on New England in the preseason opener. Darby was competing with Earnest Graham for the No. 3 running back job. Now, with the move of fullback Mike Alstott to injured reserve, the Bucs may have to reshuffle some job duties around.

Darby may benefit the most. I thought he was a practice squad guy all the way. Now, with his performance, he may make the opening-day roster no matter what.

Dad would be proud.

Maurice Stovall

Gruden spoke all offseason about how the second-year receiver had to step up. They were counting on him, Gruden said all offseason.

Stovall showed flashes of what he could do at the end of last season. So far this season, well, he's done everything possible to validate Gruden's trust.

His leaping ability and speed have added a dimension that the Buccaneers' offense didn't have last year. At 6-foot-5, he towers over most defenders to begin with. With his leaping ability, he makes some cornerbacks look just plain miniature.

He also has great hands, as evidenced by the one-handed grab he made over a cornerback's back in the back of the end zone, a catch that may be the best one of any receiver during camp.

Even better, Stovall has a work ethic to match the talent, as he takes extra receptions after every morning workout. And he still honors his late mother with a prayer every time he leaves the practice field.

The prospect of a starting job hasn't changed Stovall. He's still hungry, and that's great news for the Buccaneers.

Davin Joseph

Gruden wanted the second-year guard to be a leader on the field this training camp, and he's done so.

Add to that Joseph's physical abilities have improved. He's punished defenders most of training camp, and had a great preseason debut against New England.

It seems he's fulfilling his potential sooner rather than later as the anchor of this offensive line. I said in a recent chat that Joseph could be a Pro Bowl selection this year. That may be a stretch, but I'd rather be ahead of the curve than behind it. Joseph's that good.

The worst stories

Simeon Rice

I don't know how often I can say this. This is the biggest mistake the Bucs have made this season so far. Let's hope it's the worst, anyway.

Let me sum this up for you. The Bucs released a Pro Bowl caliber pass rusher, one they admit will be ready to play by the start of the season, one they could have put on the physically unable to perform list and one that would not have hurt their salary cap situation one bit this season or next (he would have been a free agent) if they had kept him.

They've replaced him with a rookie, Gaines Adams, and a lifetime platoon player in Patrick Chukwurah.

I can't explain why the Buccaneers did this, except that maybe they were simply fed up with Rice's personality or his repeated refusal to renegotiate his contract. Given that he only had one more year on his deal, and that it wouldn't have hurt their cap situation, they could have hung on to Rice for one more year and just let him go in 2008. I mean, unless you really think Adams and Chukwurah can pick up the slack. Well, do you?

Mike Alstott

Rumored to retire, Alstott instead moved to injured reserve for 2007 and put off the decision.

I've made my position clear, as you can tell from this recent column on Alstott.

Alstott is one of the team's most beloved players and deserves to go out anyway he wants. But the announcement was a blow to fans and the organization alike. There's no way of knowing if he'll return in 2008.

The Buccaneers are now scrambling to find a way to make up for his playing time. His fans are now bracing for the very real possibility that this second neck injury will end his career.

As one of our message board posters said that day of the announcement, "This sucks."

Chris Simms

If you don't feel for him just a little bit, then you don't have a heart.

Simms probably won't play this year for the Bucs unless something drastically changes. His sore elbow is keeping him from fully working out, and he didn't play last week. If he doesn't play against Jacksonville, his roster spot is definitely on shaky ground.

We have to keep reminding ourselves that he's less than a year removed from spleen surgery, and that he chose to come back too soon and start throwing. He needs more time to get his body back in sync with his mind.

I think we all wanted to see him come back 100 percent. It would have made for a great story. But now it's obvious Simms needs another year before he can be counted on.

It's just a matter of whether he'll still be in Tampa Bay a year from now or not.

Bruce Allen

First, there was Simeon Rice. The post-Rice stories haven't been kind to the Bucs general manager, especially when Dr. James Andrews tells teams that Rice is not a health risk.

Then there was the Chris Simms debacle. Sure, Simms backed up everything Allen said to the media about the quarterback's supposed bout with "proprioception." But Allen came off as smug during the press conference, as if he had no purpose to be there other than to make the media look like a bunch of uninformed goobers.

Then, he had to deal with Mike Alstott's move to injured reserve. The whole thing was overblown, almost as if the Bucs expected him to retire, but he changed his mind at the last minute and it became a non-press conference. How many players that get moved to IR get a press conference?

Allen must hope that the rest of preseason and the regular season goes smoother than this. If it doesn't, dodging questions about Simms' elbow will be the least of his problems.

Torrie Cox

Haven't heard anything about the cornerback, have you? There are good reasons, not the least of which will be his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, which begins after the preseason.

That may not matter. Cox's play this training camp and preseason so far has done more to play his way off the roster than his impending suspension. I expect Cox to serve his suspension with another NFL team.


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.


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