Wednesday, Aug. 22
Caddy: It's time to shine, bud
At one point this offseason no position in Tampa Bay offered more uncertainty than quarterback. Now that Jeff Garcia has solidified the position, Bucs fans can breathe a sigh of relief — until the inevitable injury, of course.
Naturally, one must turn his attention to what else ails the Buccaneers this preseason.
Cadillac Williams, anyone?
Through two preseason games Williams has three yards on four carries. Those are, you must admit, pretty sorry, even for preseason.
Yes, it's preseason. Williams doesn't usually play much in preseason. Yes, Williams usually needs more than three carries to get going. Yes, the starting offensive line has only played three possessions together.
That's an awful lot of excuses to make for a third-year veteran, don't you think?
|Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams. (AP)|
It's not that Williams did little against Jacksonville. It's how he did it. I'd have no problem with Williams only seeing a few carries if he were running with authority, hitting the hole full speed and taking on defensive linemen and linebackers. He ran that way in training camp, even in the 11-on-11 contact drills.
But he did none of that on Saturday. He appeared, to me, to run with the same shuffling feet he did toward the end of last year. Then, he had no reason to be confident in his offensive line. Then, he ran tentatively, something no one saw in him during his rookie season.
Williams described last season as a "brick wall." Saddled with a rookie quarterback by Week 4, everyone focused on Williams. Stop the back, they thought, and let the rookie beat us.
It worked. But perhaps that strategy did more damage to Williams than we thought. Yes, he ended last season injured, and his body is healed.
But what about his mind? What about his confidence? He hasn't broken off a run of 10 yards or more in his last seven games, dating back to last year. You wouldn't know it by the talk of Williams' penchant for starting slow, but he's capable of running off chunks of yardage early in games, too.
Running backs coach Art Valero told me during training camp that he made a tape of Williams last year. The tape? Some of the best 1-yard runs he'd ever seen. All were of Williams.
The Bucs did not draft Williams to produce 1-yard runs. They drafted him to be a superstar. Gruden admitted that on draft day. He's the back they want to build around for the next 10 years. Sure, he needs talent around him. But the true superstars in this league can produce without a stellar supporting cast.
It's time for Williams to prove he can do that. And Saturday night would be a great time to start.
The Bucs Buzz
I search the globe for the best Buccaneers stories on the Web — so you don't have to.
One day it's a porn star mustache on Barrett Ruud. The next day it's a "mohawk" on wide receiver Michael Clayton (and I use the term mohawk loosely). The Tampa Tribune, along with reporting on offensive lineman Arron Sears, put together this short piece on Clayton's new hair do. You might remember he had braids earlier this year. Perhaps he's hoping Gruden will think he's a new receiver and give him more playing time.
By the way, here's my article on Sears. We hope to update his condition later today, but you know how the Bucs are about that sort of thing.
Looks like St. Pete Times columnist John Romano and I were on a similar wave length this morning. While my previous blog entry talked about how Cadillac Williams needs to start taking matters into his own hands, Romano writes that Any serious success this season hinges on how well the Bucs can run the ball. Please keep in mind that five of the last six years the Bucs have ranked 24th or worse in running the football. Then, think about those season-ending record. Get it?
And remember those three-receiver sets the Bucs used heavily last Saturday night? Stephen Holder writes that if Gruden gets his way, fans will be seeing it a lot.
Elsewhere, the Albuquerque Journal caught up with third-round pick Quincy Black recently for this article. Apparently, he's been mistaken for teammate Cato June once already this season. Mike Cobb of the Lakeland Ledger writes that the Bucs are practicing their mistakes in practice. Don't worry. Plenty of teams actually do this. But it stands to reason ¬— didn't the Bucs get plenty of work at that last week?
Thursday, Aug. 23
That sigh of relief you heard this morning was head coach Jon Gruden, waking up at his usual un-Godly hour and realizing that it wasn't a dream — Arron Sears' injury was only a minor sprain.
The Bucs were not forward to pressing forward without Sears, let me tell you. This team has had such a revolving door at offensive line since after the Super Bowl that it proves just how special the 2005 season really was, in terms of all five linemen making it through the whole season without an injury.
Sears will make this line better in the long term. He'll make his mistakes and have his struggles early, just like Davin Joseph had last year. But in a couple of years these two might be among the top guard tandems in the NFL. They have the talent. There's no doubt about that.
The Bucs Buzz
Today is the last day of training camp, perhaps the happiest day on earth for a professional football player besides winning the Super Bowl.
At Bucsblitz.com right now, our "Press Pass" feature highlights Jerry Mackey, a linebacker and the newest Buccaneer. We also have articles on position battles for the Buccaneers and the rest of the We also have articles on position battles for the NFC South.
Boy, Chris Hovan digs the oddest stuff. Along with the obligatory Arron Sears story, the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings talked to Hovan about his love for ultimate fighting. My opinion? Watching two guys beat the tar out of each other is about as scintillating as watching water boil. But that's just me. Maybe I'm a different breed of cat.
At the St. Petersburg Times, Joanne Korth writes that safeties Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen will start this year, but the elements around them — including a pair of emerging rookie safeties and a new position coach — may make them better players.
Also, free agent linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is considering Tampa Bay among his possible future destinations, according to the Times.
I must admit, Trotter coming to Tampa Bay would be pretty cool for me because Trotter went to my alma mater — Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. I graduated in 1994, just before Trotter started at the school. I've always considered Trotter to be a high-energy player on the field and in the locker room. Now, his style of play isn't quite what the Buccaneers are used to. He's not as quick as most of their current linebackers, and I had heard Trotter reported to the Eagles out of shape this training camp. But, considering the Bucs need help there and Trotter is a former Pro Bowl linebacker, courting him is a good idea. He'll come cheap and he can give the Bucs 15-20 plays a game. Plus, when Trotter returned to Philadelphia in 2004, humbled legs after a terrible stretch in Washington, he willingly played special teams to work his way back into Andy Reid's good graces. Given how he left Philly, Trotter might be willing to do anything for a better contract in 2008.
Friday, Aug. 24
It's that time of year
Jeremiah Trotter and Al Singleton pop into Tampa Bay for a workout. Eddie Drummond gets a phone call (presumably) from the Buccaneers about joining the team.
This is the time of year when teams that are unsure of themselves look to the free agent market for help. And the Bucs are doing that with an eye toward shoring up two key positions — linebacker and returner.
Linebacker appears to be a more pressing need, given the workouts that Trotter and Singleton went through on Thursday. For more on their appearance, click here.
Injuries to Antonie Cash and Sam Olajubutu — both season-ending — left the Bucs with seven linebackers. A trade for rookie Jerry Mackey made it eight.
But the Bucs obviously want something more reliable. Consider that Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud and Cato June are set as starters. Then, you have veteran Jamie Winborn. After that, it gets dicey. Ryan Nece is a vet, but he's learning a new position in the middle and at times has looked lost. The rest of the linebackers are rookies.
Signing either Trotter or Singleton would offer a little reassurance if Ruud struggles as the starter. Or if Brooks is somehow hurt. Or if June just doesn't get it on the strong side.
But who? Yesterday in this space I touted Trotter because he's an East Texas boy like me. But while Trotter is talented, he's not the best fit. At his size (262 pounds) he's a run specialist now, and that's one area I don't expect Ruud to struggle with. And if Ruud gets hurt, having a dedicated middle linebacker like Trotter would be nice, but he would also be a liability in passing situations.
Thus, Singleton, 32, is the better fit. Yes, he's not exactly light at 250 pounds, but he has a few things going for him. First, he's lighter than Trotter. Second, playing strong side isn't a whole lot different than playing middle. Third, Singleton spent six years with Tampa Bay, was their strong side starter in Super Bowl XXXVII and presumably knows the defense. For Singleton, it all comes down to health. He's used the NFL's medical plan quite a bit during his career. It's part of the reason the Dallas Cowboys let him go after last season.
|Former Detroit return specialist Eddie Drummond. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)|
Mark Jones and Chad Owens have shown little from a return standpoint. I expected one of them to step up and take control of the job by now, and neither has. Adding Drummond to the mix, even at this late hour, could stir things up.
I wouldn't expect the Bucs to make a move until this weekend on either position. I wouldn't expect them to stop looking, either. There are still places on this team that could use firepower, and for the first time in a long time the Bucs have the money to spend — about $15 million under the cap, according to general manager Bruce Allen. They should be judicious, but they should also not be afraid to spend the cash if an opportunity to make this team better arises.
After a 4-12 season, you spare no one's feelings.
The Bucs are done with practice this week and are flying to Miami today for the preseason game with the Dolphins. Flying? I'm driving. C'mon, take a bus.
Anyway, at Bucsblitz.com we're getting you ready for the game. Each week we have a game capsule. It's designed to give you all the vital information on the game. We also have our exclusive "Behind Enemy Lines" series. This week, Dolphinsdigest.com's Alain Poupart answers my questions about the Dolphins and their progress during the preseason. Our "Press Pass" series continues with a question and answer session with second-year wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who is locked in a battle for a starting job.
Meanwhile, Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson writes that as much as everyone would love to see Carnell Williams have a huge game Saturday night, it probably won't happen. Why? Williams will be lucky to touch the ball a handful of times on Saturday, according to Jon Gruden. And, as the season approaches and the Bucs are starting to feel the injury bug, veterans like Joey Galloway have one goal — stay healthy.
At the St. Petersburg Times, the muffed snaps are getting to Gruden and quarterback Jeff Garcia. There was another one at practice on Thursday. Naturally, Gruden wasn't amused.
The Orlando Sentinel's Chris Harry writes that Trotter's tryout should not be seen as a vote of no-confidence against Ruud.
Monday, Aug. 27
I took a break
I've missed the blog the past couple of days, mainly to cover the Bucs-Fins preseason game. The thing I had about preseason football aren't the games themselves. It's those start times. 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. — that's murder on a deadline, since I work for a newspaper, too.
Practice just started a few minutes ago. The offensive line and quarterbacks waited until the last minute to venture outside into the head, as the Bucs were doing mostly special teams walkthroughs. The Bucs practice today, Tuesday and Wednesday entering Thursday's final preseason game against Houston.
Of course, anywhere from 10-12 of those players won't be there for Thursday's game. The first cuts are Tuesday by 4 p.m. The Bucs usually wait until the last minute to announce the cuts. Don't expect any earth-shattering releases in these first cuts. It's usually third- and fourth-string players that never had a chance to make the team anyway.
I'll have a full report after practice, plus the usual transcript from head coach Jon Gruden.
Bucs stories around the Web
Of course, thanks to my break, there are plenty of Bucs stories out there to catch up on.
Here at Bucsblitz.com, there's plenty of post-game material to get you caught up. Here are the links to our free and premium pieces the past 48 hours:
You can expect that kind of coverage every week during the regular season. I'm working on my "Film Session" piece off the Miami game, along with our final edition of "Training Camp Battles" as the Bucs prepare for Houston. With the short week, "Behind Enemy Lines" will take a break.
And, don't forget — the final cuts are Saturday. Bucsblitz will be keeping you as up to date as possible on who's being cut and who's not.
Off-site, at the Tampa Tribune, Anwar Richardson filed this story on Cadillac Williams and his frustration at how he's being used. What's most disconcerting to him are the breaks between carries. Plus, the Buccaneers gave themselves mixed reviews on defense after Saturday's win.
At the St. Pete Times, I liked this column by John Romano on the importance of Williams to the offense. Meanwhile, you may have noticed that Ike Hilliard started on Saturday. What you may not know are the off-the-field battles Hilliard has dealt with the past couple of years, including the death of his mother. Hilliard talks so sporadically and has such an even keel that you would never know what he's been through. Stephen Holder did a great job of illuminating Hilliard's story.
And at the Bradenton Herald, staff writer Roger Mooney explores the up and down performance of the first team defense on Saturday.
He's tired of talking about Chris
Simms, that is.
Naturally, we wanted to know about how the Bucs might use Chris Simms during Thursday's final preseason game against Houston. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden made it pretty clear that he's sick of talking about the fifth-year quarterback.
|Jon Gruden. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty images)|
Naturally, we pressed him on the issue.
"I don't know how much he's going to play, I really don't," Gruden said. "We're going to do our best to get him out on the field."
And pity the poor guy that showed up late and asked him again.
"You're only allowed to keep 53 guys and only one quarterback plays, unless we put in the Arkansas offense, where you play two at once," Gruden said. "There's a lot that goes into it. We're going to try and keep the best players. Not a lot of teams keep four. Some teams keep two. So we have some tough decisions to make and we'll make them.
"I'm not talking about it anymore. I'm not talking about it anymore. I've been, every day, talking about this issue, OK? We're going to do what we feel is best for our football team. We have a lot of respect for Chris, certainly, and what he's been through. At the same time, we have a helluva schedule facing us in 10 days and we'll make the decisions that are the best for our team."
Gruden has been weary of the Simms questions for some time. But the questions are going to persist at least through the weekend, as we keep track of whether Simms will make the final roster cut or not — and what might happen afterward if he doesn't.
I think Gruden may be under pressure here from the organization to keep Simms. He's a fifth-year pro, he's a great face for the organization because he works hard and he always talks openly with the media. Plus, there's what happened last year, which makes him a sympathetic figure.
The Bucs should keep him, but I don't think they will. That's been my position the last three weeks and I'm sticking to it.
Tuesday, Aug. 28
It will be a busy weekend
I've been kicking this around for a couple of days. I'm beginning to believe that the Bucs will be a busy team over the weekend — and not just because of roster cuts.
Tampa Bay's management always says it combs the waiver wire every day. I think they'll be doing so with a more critical eye this weekend, as I can't imagine they're satisfied with their team yet.
There are way too many question marks right now, even as they enter the final preseason game. The Bucs need depth at linebacker. There's been no movement on Jeremiah Trotter or Al Singleton yet. Even though it appears Mark Jones has won the kick and punt return job, I wouldn't put it past the Bucs to bring in another vet, if a viable one is released.
Right end Patrick Chukwurah's injury concerns me. All Jon Gruden said yesterday was that it was a knee injury and that Chukwurah was "week to week to week." It seems the more cryptic this organization gets about injuries, the more serious they become.
Or have you forgotten the Bucs described fullback Mike Alstott's season-ending injury as "soreness" before they revealed it was a neck injury.
The Bucs could go hunting for depth at offensive line, or even at cornerback, where none of the players competing for the No. 4 or No. 5 spots have stepped up.
Keep in mind that the Bucs are $15 million under the salary cap. They have money to spend. They can take on a big salary in a trade and not worry about it long-term.
General Manager Bruce Allen told us in June that this training camp and preseason could be especially busy in terms of player movement. So far, that hasn't been the case.
But I think that changes this weekend. I'll go out on the limb. I think you'll see the Bucs make two or three moves this weekend that have nothing to do with their own roster cuts, and perhaps one could be of the blockbuster variety.
Oh, and by the way — Simeon Rice is still available. Hey, stranger things have happened.
Bucs stories on the web
Read more about Patrick Chukwurah's injury by clicking here. Also, check out our chat wrap from Sunday night. I talked about the Bucs with three different users. They had plenty to say about the running game.
Over at the Tampa Tribune, columnist Martin Fennelly writes about offensive lineman Davin Joseph, who has expectations as big as his hands. I mentioned to users earlier this year that I think Joseph can be a Pro Bowl pick this year. I think he's that good. Also, Anwar Richardson breaks down the preseason so far for rookie Gaines Adams, who stands to benefit the most from Chukwurah's unknown status.
Over at the St. Petersburg times, Ryan Nece is beginning to finally settle in at middle linebacker after a big learning curve. Also, Rick Stroud writes that for many Bucs this week, avoiding being cut is the main objective.
And, at the Lakeland Ledger, Mike Cobb writes that four quarterbacks may be a possibility for these Bucs.