I'm at Dolphins Stadium early for tonight's preseason game in Miami. It wasn't the easiest drive I've had across Alligator Alley, as it rained most of the way. But the field appears to be in good shape for tonight's game and, for now, the rain is holding off.
A few players are on the field just getting some stretching and warm-ups in. It appears long snapper Andrew Economos and wide receiver Joey Galloway are stretching in the end zone closest to me.
Naturally one of the key questions is whether wide receiver David Boston will play tonight after his DUI arrest in Pinellas Park on Thursday. Boston passed a breath test and a urine analysis is pending. The Buccaneers have not made a public comment since the incident, which means head coach Jon Gruden is likely to get a question after the game. Since he passed the breath test and the urine analysis is pending, my inclination is that he'll play, but probably find his way out of the locker room before we in the media can talk to him.
More pre-game updates are coming soon. I need some food first.
Bucs back Boston
Tampa Bay released this quote from general manager Bruce Allen regarding Boston's arrest on Thursday:
"We have investigated the David Boston situation and feel that we have an understanding of the facts. At this time, we have seen no objective evidence to support the charges that were brought against him."
The Bucs have not taken the field yet for warm-ups, but I would expect, based on this statement, that Boston will play.
Change in starting lineup
Here are the changes to Tampa Bay's starting lineup tonight:
Anthony Davis at left guard for Arron Sears;
Ike Hilliard at wide receiver for Maurice Stovall;
Michael Pittman at fullback for B.J. Askew;
Kevin Carter at right defensive end for Patrick Chukwurah.
Carter's an interesting choice at right end. We'll see if he, along with left end Greg Spires can get a better rush on the passer.
And David Boston is on the field.
Hilliard moving up?
Ike Hilliard is a veteran who bears watching tonight because he's replacing Maurice Stovall in the starting lineup.
Jon Gruden made reference earlier this week to Stovall "disappearing" after the first 10 days of camp. The implication was that Stovall's level of play tapered off after a hot start, and is only beginning to come back.
Stovall didn't seem eager to admit he had hit a wall when I spoke to him on Thursday. But Gruden has been a big Hilliard fan throughout camp and perhaps this is his reward to the savvy veteran — and a reminder to Stovall that the job isn't his, despite being at the top of the depth chart.
It should be noted that Maurice Stovall saw no action in any of the three- and four-wide receiver sets during the drive. But Michael Clayton saw some action in the slot.
The Bucs also seem insistent on using no fullback to block for Cadillac Williams. This may just be Gruden experimenting during the preseason, but I think Williams really needs the lead blocker. The offensive line got no push at all on that first right sweep of the game. We'll see how that progresses.
I also noted the Bucs ran the ball one time during that drive. We'll see if that theme continues as well.
Binoculars are a wonderful invention.
The Bucs took a 7-0 lead on Cate June's interception. I had a great view through my binoculars.
That was a solid screen pass from Trent Green to Ronnie Brown. June just stripped the ball away from Brown as he was gathering it in.
If you read my "Observation Deck" piece today, then you know that one of the areas I thought the Bucs had to focus on was forcing turnovers and turning it into either great field position or points. That's a real promising start for a defense that needs some splash plays this preseason.
We're hearing that Jeff Garica may be hurt. It may be a false alarm. We'll keep you updated as we know more.
A one-note pass rusher?
I wanted to watch him closely on several plays before I made this observation on Gaines Adams.
I watched him through the binoculars several plays in a row against veteran left tackle Vernon Carey. What I saw should concern the coaching staff. Though I'm not a trained NFL scout, I saw a player that really only had one pass rush move — run up the field. Carey had no problem keeping up with Adams and forcing him to the outside. I mean — NO problem.
If Adams has an array of pass rush moves — as I've heard he does — he didn't put them on display on that drive. He did make one tackle on Cory Schlesinger, but he took advantage of Carey pulling away from the play.
We'll see if that improves. BTW, the Bucs are getting pushed around on this drive. The Fins are nearing a touchdown.
Fins tie it up
All that running on that drive, especially late, came in hand on that play-action fake from Green to tight end David Martin to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
Great drive by the Dolphins to come back from that interception and tie the game. The Bucs defense didn't get the job done that drive, certainly not like last week in Jacksonville.
Now let's see if Garcia comes out for the second drive.
I watched Garcia on the sideline for a couple of minutes and didn't see him reaching for anything in pain. Plus, he's out there. So forget the injury report. If he's hurt, it's obviously minor.
Backup left tackle Donald Penn wasn't able to hold his block of Matt Roth, leading to a great interception by the Dolphins end. That interception really wasn't on Garcia.
The interception was Garcia's first of the preseason.
So Luke Petitgout went one possession? Interesting. I guess they're being cautious with his back.
Boise State baby!
Did you see that? Green took the snap faked the throw right and then handed off left with his opposite hand to Jesse Chatman, who rumbled in for the score.
Don't you just love it when the college game can influence the pro game like that? I doubt if Boise State hadn't done that in the Fiesta Bowl Fins head coach Cam Cameron never would have even thought to use it.
Fins 14, Bucs 7.
Caddy's big run
I guess big run is a stretch. But Cadillac Williams just rushed for 12 yards to end the quarter. He did it in a single back formation and to the left side, using a nice cut to get between the tackle and guard.
That's a promising development given his production so far this preseason.
I have to correct myself on that Penn entry. Penn was on the right side, not the left. Petitgout is still in the game, which is a promising sign given the back troubles Petitgout had during training camp. He went three possessions last week, and the Bucs are in the midst of No. 3 right now.
Now that's the Cadillac we're looking for
That was a fake reverse handoff to Williams, and that run is exactly what I've been talking about all week. Explosive, physical, great second effort — it was all there. Plus, the blocker was solid. If Williams can run the ball consistently like that, then Gruden will be much more inclined to use the running game, which wasn't the case last year.
He really did disappear
I may need to be corrected on this, but I don't think I've seen Stovall out there so far tonight. I've seen plenty of Joey Galloway, Clayton and Hilliard. But no Stovall, and very little Boston.
Maybe that disappearing act was no joke.
Clayton being out there so much may just be Gruden evaluating the four-year veteran, whom some believe is on the roster bubble.
And the Dolphins are dropping fast. That's their second injury on this drive. Both appear to be cramps, though. This time is looks like Vonnie Holliday.
Tight end Alex Smith is on the ground and injured. This one doesn't look like cramps. They appear to be looking at his left knee. He is, however, walking off under his own power. I'll update you when I have something.
Double G on the TD
All I kept hearing behind me on Garcia's TD pass to Galloway was "Way too much time, way too much time!"
The Dolphins homer was right. Garcia had way too much time in the pocket to find a open receiver. And Galloway wasn't that open, though he did have about a half-step on Travares Tillman.
Galloway did a tremendous job of stutter-stepping in the back of the end zone to stay inbounds.
That drive moved nicely for the Bucs. Williams had a couple of solid runs, and I think that went a long way toward opening up the passing lanes for that TD.
Game tied, 14-14.
Alex Smith has a left ankle injury and he will not return.
Second stringers filtering in
Ryan Sims, Ryan Nece, Patrick Chukwurah, Greg White, Sammy Davis, Phillip Buchanon and Jamie Winborn are now in the game for the Bucs defense.
And Adams nearly pulled down Cleo Lemon before he got off a desperation pass for a completion. Nice play by Lemon.
Luke McCown is in the game as the backup quarterback. Garcia put together a pretty solid night. Yes, he had the interception, but I think that was really more on Penn not being able to hold his block than on a bad read. It's the second straight week Garcia's produced a passing touchdown in the preseason, a good sign after last season's horrible passing game.
And a nice double reverse out of the shotgun to Boston. That's his first touch of the game thus far and it led to a first down.
P.S. — Still no Stovall.
Just as I write that Stovall isn't in, he appears in the slot next to Clayton.
The Bucs have to punt. McCown held that third-down pass attempt a little too long and was sacked.
Turnover No. 2
Julian Jenkins knocked that reception out of Patrick Cobbs' hands from the backside to force the fumble and the Dolphins' second turnover of the game. Sammy Davis recovered it, helping his cause to make the roster.
That's the second turnover the Bucs defense has forced tonight. Let's see if the offense can turn it into something.
Clayton helping himself
Clayton is helping his cause by taking that pass out of the flat, shedding a tackler and moving the ball downfield into Dolphins territory. Clayton's seen a lot of playing time tonight as part of what I think is a serious evaluation of whether he should remain on the roster. This is easily the most playing time he's seen in the first half of any preseason game so far.
Turnovers are meaningful
What you're looking for when your defense forces a turnover are points. You want a touchdown, but you'll take whatever you can get.
The Buccaneers forced two turnovers in the first half and converted them into xx points. Of course, June took care of things himself on the interception (it was a 2-yard return, by the way). Then, after Davis' fumble recovery, McCown moved the Bucs into field goal position in the final two minutes to give the Bucs a 17-14 lead.
So, two turnovers equals 10 points? I think defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will be quite happy with that at halftime.
Goodbye, Mr. White?
Defensive end Greg White was already a bubble player. But that roughing the passer play at the end of the half may have burst that bubble.
In a situation where the opposing quarterback is throwing a jump ball to end the half, you cannot even give the hint of roughing the passer. I didn't get a good look at the replay, so I don't know legitimate the call was, but in that situation you just have to avoid it period, because a defensive penalty with no time on the clock gives the offense another play.
Fortunately for the Bucs, Jay Feely missed the 55-yard field goal. But that's a critcal penalty at a critical time in any game, and White will hear about it at halftime and during film sessions this week — unless he's cut on Tuesday.
The second half is underway
The Dolphins have the football to open the second half, and rookie John Beck is at the controls. For the second half, I'm going to concentrate on highlighting those players that are in position battles and how their play may be affecting their chances. Some of these guys that will be on the field this half won't be with the team on Thursday when the Bucs play Houston.
Fins take lead
Kalvin Pearson isn't going to feel good after that play, as he collided with another Buccaneer as he tried to make a play on P.K. Sam's touchdown reception. The Fins are up 21-17.
Pearson is probably the No. 5 safety right now, and that's not a good place to be as roster cuts loom. That play isn't going to help (I couldn't tell who he bumped into). Pearson's calling card is his ability to help on special teams, so a big play on kickoffs or punts tonight might offset that. He's not a Tuesday cut, in my opinion, but he's going to have to fight to avoid that final cut.
Three starters on the offensive line — Davin Joseph, John Wade and Anthony Davis — are still in the game. Davis has slid over to left tackle to make room for Dan Buenning at left guard. Donald Penn is still at right tackle, where he's been most of the game. I'll have to get an update on Trueblood after the game. It's unusual he only played one or two possessions in a game such as this.
It's also a little unusual to see that many starting offensive linemen play in the second half of a preseason game. The drive sputtered, and I wonder if Gruden is just playing with a combination that he might need to use if injuries arise.
Hello, Mr. Peterson
He's been relatively quiet this preseason, but fifth-round pick Greg Peterson registered his first sack of the preseason a moment ago, tackling Beck for a loss.
Peterson has not drawn a lot of attention this preseason. I think he's a project end/tackle with a lot of raw ability, but not a player that's going to make the active roster. I do, however, think he's worth a spot on the practice squad. He just hasn't done enough this preseason to warrant an active roster spot. The Bucs have enough inside to allow Peterson time to develop.
And we have a Chris Simms sighting at the nine-minute mark.
Simms is in
Chris Simms is making his first appearance of the preseason with nine minutes left in the third quarter. So this is about to turn into a Simms blog.
His first play was a handoff ot Earnest Graham. So is his second play.
His third? You've got it — a handoff to Graham.
Well, Simms can hand off. Can we find out if he can throw now?
Simms' first pass, to tight end Keith Heinrich, is incomplete. Heinrich, I think, should have caught it. But it wasn't a long pass. Just a short screen over the middle, probably not more than five yards.
Then, it's back to Graham. Now it's 3rd and 8. This has to be a pass.
Nifty. Simms feels the pressure, moves up and shovel passes it to an open Graham. Great play. Too bad Simms was past the line of scrimmage. Illegal forward pass means a loss of down and a punt.
Take that, proprioception!
Gradkowski in the game
I guess Jon Gruden is done with Simms.
After one possession, Gruden has inserted Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback.
Answer me this — how is Gruden supposed to know if Simms can help him this season if he only gives him one possession in one game to prove himself? It's completely ludicrous to believe that Simms is just going to light the world on fire with one possession.
He's had a tough preseason and if he's to be properly evaluated he needs more game action. If you put him out there for one possession, he's healthy enough to play longer. What's the harm in giving him a couple of more possessions, especially when you have a good amount of tape on Gradkowski this preseason?
This only adds more fuel to the fire that the Bucs are going to cut Simms. And, even if you're not going to keep him, you pretty much just stomped on what little trade value he might have had left by playing him just one possession.
It would be a shame if it ended like that, but it appears that's where it's headed. I can't wait to hear how Gruden spins this after the game.
Simms should probably start warming up his sales pitch to prospective employers.
It's not bad enough he just had one possession to play. Gradkowski then came in the game and led the Bucs to a touchdown.
I disagree with the Bucs cutting Simms, because I believe, when healthy, he's a better option than Gradkowski or McCown. He's the only one of the three that has had success at the pro level (or have you forgotten the division title he led the Bucs to in 2005). But his recovery from his spleen injury has been tougher than expected (and he's acknowledged that). If the Bucs were willing to give him more time to work his way back into his pre-injury shape, I think they would be rewarded.
But I doubt that's going to happen now. I think Simms is a goner. I feel for the guy. He did everything he could to try and get back for this season, but it's just not going to happen. He needed more time.
Some team in the NFL is eventually going to benefit from this.
Zemaitis, bubble boy
Backup cornerback Alan Zemaitis was just burned by a Dolphins receiver for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the Dolphins a 28-24 lead with 10:16 left.
Zemaitis is one of several players competing for what I think are two cornerback spots. He's one of three primary competitors, along with Sammy Davis and seventh-round pick Marcus Hamilton. It looked like Zemaitis lost position, and then lost his footing.
Any play like that in preseason is magnified when it comes time for roster cuts. Zemaitis didn't do a thing last season, and so far this preseason he hasn't done a great deal to help his cause. He's, quite possibly, could be cut.
And, on a related note, Mark Jones is helping himself in the kick return category by putting the Bucs on their own 40, which is great field position off a kickoff. He's done that a couple of times tonight, while Chad Owens has had a rather pedestrian outing. Perhaps Jones heard those Eddie Drummond rumors and felt he needed to step up his game. He appears to have done so tonight.
Double G, part two
If Chas Gessner somehow makes this team, he'll have Gradkowski to thank.
The second-year quarterback keeps targeting the former Brown lacrosse player, this time on an underneath route for a first down.
The play before Gradkowski went deep to Gessner, but had the underthrown pass batted away. That's the throw Gradkowski can't seem to make on a regular basis — that deep sideline pass where you must hit the receiver in stride.
There it is again
The Bucs need a first down. Who do you throw it to?
This bubble boy will likely make it through the first round of cuts, as he caught Gradkowski's pass on fourth down to move the chains. He now had two catches on the night, both for first downs.
Coaches like players that catch passes for first downs. In fact, they really like them.
Still, Gessner's a long shot. But he has talent, and if he can't stay in Tampa Bay it would be a shame to not see him picked up somewhere else.
And Paris Warren just committed a pass interference penalty in the red zone. Keep a wide berth from Gruden when you get back to the sideline, Paris. And shut off your cell phone on Tuesday. You may not want to take that call from One Buc.
Scratch that. Reverse it.
Paris, forget what I said about your cell phone. Keep it on Tuesday. I think you just passed through the first round of cuts with a splendid reception in the back of the end zone from Gradkowski. He fought off defenders in front of him to do it.
By the way, Gradkowski, I think, has now pulled even in the backup quarterback race. That's two touchdown drives on two possessions. If Garcia sits next Thursday as expected, you'll see McCown and Gradkowski go mano-a-mano for the right to back him up.
Heading to field
It's the two-minute warning and I'm headed down. So, if anything happens, I'll update you later.
I'll have a story up soon on Simms and why his playing time was so short tonight. But given Gradkowski's performance, I think the quarterback situation is now settled.