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|Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)|
He guided the Bucs 43 yards to their first touchdown of the night. It would have been a long pass to Joey Galloway, if not for a holding penalty preventing Galloway from getting to the ball. Later, Garcia rolled to his right, waited until the last possible second for David Boston to find an opening and gunned it into the veteran receiver.
Garcia's mobility is the best Jon Gruden has had in his offense since Rich Gannon. It's not even close. Garcia went 6-for-6 passing, and looked crisp in the process. The other drives stymied due to an ineffective running game and Garcia's only mistake, a bad handoff to Michael Pittman. But there was plenty to feel good about.
Note to Monte Kiffin: Keep Carter at left defensive end. I like Greg Spires, but Carter showed a fire and intensity on that left side that was lacking last week. He didn't play like a 12-year veteran. The Bucs will still need Spires, but Carter showed great effectiveness on the edge.
Carter finished with two tackles and a sack. That doesn't include the quarterback hurry Carter produced on Jacksonville's second possession, plus his able run support. Eyebrows were raised when the Bucs signed such a veteran lineman for a team already brimming with vets. Those eyebrows can be relaxed now.
Before leg cramps took him out of the game on the opening kickoff of the second half, Jackson put on a show and proved why Jermaine Phillips is not a set-in-stone starter at strong safety.
After the Bucs gave up a possible touchdown chance on a fumble, and Jacksonville returned it inside Tampa Bay's 5-yard line, Jackson went to work. First, Jackson broke up a potential touchdown pass on first down to TE Marcedes Lewis. Then, he wrapped up RB Greg Jones on second down, coming from behind. Then, on third down, Jackson swarmed in from the right side to cut off Jones' legs as he headed for the hole.
Later in the first half, Jackson broke up another potential touchdown pass.
It's Jackson's coverage skills that will win him playing time, perhaps even the starting job. He was a cornerback at Syracuse and he's proving to have exceptional coverage skills. I have not seen Phillips produce that well in pass coverage in my time covering the team.
David Boston: He caught Tampa Bay's early touchdown pass, plus his 4-yard end around set up what should have been a Bucs score in the second quarter. He didn't give up on the play when Garcia was running around, which is a savvy veteran play.
It's time to start discussing the No. 2 wide receiver race in these terms — Maurice Stovall vs. David Boston. Michael Clayton shouldn't even figure into the conversation anymore. I held out a little to see if Clayton showed me something on Saturday and he really didn't. Both Boston and Stovall were on the field with the first team in three-wide receiver formations in the first quarter. The Bucs are using Boston in a lot of different ways right now — out wide, in the slot and even in bunch formations near the line. Gruden is becoming quite enamored with the veteran, and Boston's play is backing that up.
Pats on the back
The first-team offensive line: In terms of pass protecting, this unit did a solid job (the line had other issues, which will be discussed later). Garcia was sacked once, but that was due to a bad snap exchange, not a failure in protection. LT Luke Petitgout played well. RT Jeremy Trueblood had a bounce-back game, too.
Trueblood, RG Davin Joseph and LG Arron Sears played the entire first half. Joseph and Sears were two players I wanted to keep an eye on Saturday because they had to take on two great interior linemen in Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. The guards certainly didn't dominate the vets, but they held their own against them. When the second team Jaguars defense entered the game, the Bucs running game came to life behind these two, with Earnest Graham breaking off some big gains. The Bucs had a 4.2 per carry average on the ground in the first half. Joseph's and Sears' play was encouraging.
DE Gaines Adams: The rookie had his first preseason sack in the third quarter, and it showed that he's learning the pro game.
David Garrard stepped up on the pocket and was out to take the ball upfield, but Adams caught him from the backside. He never gave up on the play, even though it was clear the Jags wanted to run the play to the opposite side.
He also showed some doggedness in the first half, too. With Leftwich in at QB, he dropped back seven steps in play action, found his pocket collapsing and stepped up to find a tight end in the flat. Initially, Adams found himself way outside of the play. But when he realized his path would get him nowhere, he disengaged from the left tackle, ran to the opposite side behind the Bucs' tackles and hit Leftwich just after he got the pass off.
It's those types of plays that show Adams is not just a straight-ahead rusher.
The Bucs' first-team defense stayed on the field basically for the first three possessions. During that time the Bucs gave up 20 total yards and one first down. Additionally, they registered a sack and a quarterback hurry. The Jags' offensive line is no pushover, even though it's been hit by injuries.
The Bucs would have loved to see the second- and third-teamers match that intensity and performance. But the first teamers set the tone defensively for the next two weeks of the preseason. That's something the youngsters will have to match to make the team.
Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski: McCown's play came down a notch this weekend, certainly, but give him credit for moving the football into scoring position twice (what happened after that wasn't his fault). Plus, he showed some great hustle tracking down Jacksonville's Jamaal Fudge on that fumble return. That saved a touchdown. A downturn in his performance was to be expected. But that downturn wasn't much.
Gradkowski led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and looked much more comfortable than he did last week. I found very little to quibble with, except for the fact that it came against third-teamers. But he cashed in on his chances, and that can't be ignored.
Chas Gessner: This may be the Brown receiver's final shot at making a NFL roster. He spent last season on the Bucs' practice squad. He was the biggest beneficiary from Gradkowski's night, catching four passes in the fourth quarter for 48 yards. He still may not make the roster, but he gave the Bucs a good look at the receiver he can be.
Mark Jones He caught Gradkowski's touchdown pass, redeeming himself after dropping a sure catch on the previous play. That was a big catch for Jones because he really didn't do much in the return game (two punt returns for six yards), where his big competition is with Chad Owens (two kickoff returns for a 21.5-yard average). Jones is third on the depth chart at WR right now, and that could be a valuable tiebreaker when the final roster cuts are made. His TD catch enhances his chances.
Don't expect days off this week
Adam Hayward: The rookie linebacker's inability to wrap up Maurice Jones-Drew in the first quarter led to a touchdown, and was a perfect illustration of the team's woeful tackling last year. Hayward will get an earful about that hit from linebackers coach Gus Bradley this week.
Cadillac Williams: I know the Jags' front seven is pretty darn good, but three carries for minus-1 yards? Williams is supposed to be the No. 1 back, and thus far in preseason he's shown us little of that (granted, he's not going to get much playing time). You can chalk it up to the fact that Williams doesn't get going early in games. But the fact is he hasn't broken off a run of 10 yards or more in the first five carries of his last seven games (dating back to last regular season). It would be nice to see one, because there will be questions until he does.
|Tampa Bay running back Kenneth Darby. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)|
Sammy Davis: The fourth-year cornerback broke up a pass, but he also missed a tackle he needed to make. This is a big game for the former first-round pick coming up in Miami. So far, the race between he, Alan Zemaitis and Marcus Hamilton is pretty even. He did nothing to hurt himself on Saturday, but he didn't really separate himself from the others, either.
"Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook
Lehr snapped it high to Garcia on the second possession, but Garcia was able to corral the ball and get it out for a first down. Later, Lehr and Luke McCown had issues on a snap exchange.
Lehr wasn't the only one with snap issues, either. But Lehr failed twice to get the snap off correctly, and he's in a competition with Wade and Dan Buenning as well. I saw Lehr botch a snap during a basic drill at training camp. There's a reason three teams have let him go since he entered the league. He can't afford these mistakes.
This unit gave up 31 points and the vast majority of Jacksonville's yardage on the night (remember that the Bucs defensive starters allowed just 20 to the Jags, and Jacksonville finished with 377 total yards). No one on that unit will be safe from Gruden's wrath this week.
The backups are key because this defense is still pretty old, and some of them are going to be playing vital roles this season. If Derrick Brooks, heaven forbid, goes down, do you have faith in Adam Hayward to pick up the slack? Not after Saturday night.
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.