Tampa Bay has spent the past eight months putting together a football team they hope can erase the taste of a 4-12 season in 2006.
Have they done it? Only the season will tell. But the Buccaneers must make their cuts on Saturday to 53 players, the ones they believe can help them turn this team around.
I've watched this team since the first day of training camp and I have my own ideas of who should stay and who should go. Some of these decisions aren't easy to make, even in the hypothetical world.
I should state a few parameters up front. I'm putting this team together as I believe the Bucs will do. Making predictions makes no sense if you're going to put the team together as you see fit. If I would dissent from what I think they will do, I'll include that commentary.
I'll take into account the injury situations of key players, if I think they'll make a difference in the roster configuration. Note that anyone put on injured reserve at this point is done for the season.
And, finally, the Bucs like roster flexibility, so keep that in mind. Let's get started. Here are my predictions for the 53-man roster:
Cut (1): Chris Simms.
Comments: If I were in Bruce Allen's shoes, I would keep Simms. I'd find a way. He's had more success than either McCown or Gradkowski on the pro level, and when he's finally right he'd be a better option than either of those quarterbacks. But since I believe the Bucs won't keep him, I have to include Simms as a cut. I think the Simms era comes to an end on Saturday.
Cut (1): Lionel Gates.
Comments: Don't lose your mind — Michael Pittman is still on the team. I think what the Bucs will do is move Pittman to the fullback position on the depth chart once the regular season is upon us. Even if they don't, though, I think the Bucs will keep Graham and Darby on the active roster. Darby has done enough to impress the coaches, I think. Gates had a good game Thursday, but it's not enough.
Fullback (2) : Michael Pittman, B.J. Askew.
Cut (1): Byron Storer.
Comments: Askew will see plenty of playing time, especially in situations where a true fullback is required. Plus, he showed Thursday that he catch the football out of the backfield and score, making him an Alstott-like asset. But it's obvious Jon Gruden will use Pittman a lot as a hybrid fullback.
Comments: I was set to give Paris Warren a roster spot after Thursday's game, until Jon Gruden announced that Warren's injury would put him on injured reserve. I think everyone in Tampa Bay feels for the guy after the performance he had vs. Houston. Now there's a distinct possibility the Bucs will only keep five wide receivers. They have three solid tight ends, all of whom can catch, plus Pittman out of the backfield. Gruden may feel he has enough receiving options already. Gessner has had a nice preseason, but that wasn't enough last year. It won't be again this year. I would be surprised if he made the team.
Comments: Probably the easiest cuts to make. Heinrich has had problems making catches this preseason. Leak has been on and off the roster since OTAs.
Offensive line (9) : John Wade (center), Davin Joseph (right guard), Jeremy Trueblood (right tackle), Arron Sears (left guard), Luke Petitgout (left tackle), Dan Buenning (center/guard), Anthony Davis (guard/tackle), Matt Lehr (center/guard), Donald Penn (tackle)
Comments: Penn is the one surprise among those I expected to make the team entering training camp. I had Denman pegged for that final spot, but Penn had a great camp and preseason and deserves the spot. Plus, Denman can be cut and then signed to the practice squad. There's plenty of flexibility on this line, with Buenning, Davis and Lehr all able to play at least two positions. Keep an eye on this position, though. Both Sears and Trueblood were hobbling a bit as they walked out of the stadium on Sunday. Gruden has said both will be ready for the opener, but if there's a chance they won't be, that could affect who they keep this weekend — or who they go after once all the cuts are made.
Comments: Carter can play both end and tackle. Wyms can be of help on the edge, in addition to tackle. If Chukwurah is hurt for more than a few weeks, you'll definitely see the Bucs keep at least one more end, probably Jenkins. Peterson can be signed to the practice squad. I think the Bucs will seek to improve this position in some way after the cuts are made.
Cut (1): Leon Joe.
Comments: This doesn't take into account what the Bucs might do over the weekend. I don't think they're comfortable with just two experienced backup linebackers, one of which is learning a new position. So the Bucs will be looking to sign someone. Perhaps it's Jeremiah Trotter. Perhaps it's Al Singleton. Perhaps it's someone who will be cut on Saturday. But, right now, they all make the team, with a couple of them making it by default. Joe hasn't been here long enough to make an impression, unfortunately.
Secondary (10) : Ronde Barber (cornerback), Brian Kelly (cornerback), Phillip Buchanon (cornerback), Sammy Davis (cornerback), Marcus Hamilton (cornerback), Jermaine Phillips (safety), Will Allen (safety), Sabby Piscitelli (safety), Tanard Jackson (safety), Kalvin Pearson (safety).
Comments: Pearson can thank Warren's season ending injury for his roster spot. I had the Bucs cutting Pearson before Warren's injury, but with the extra roster spot I think the Bucs will choose to keep one of their top special teams players and budding talent at safety. Cox won't be available until Week 5 due to a NFL suspension and hasn't had a very good preseason. Piscitelli, Jackson and Hamilton will have to pick up some special teams slack. Expect Jackson and Piscitelli to see some playing time early this season. Zemaitis' average night against Houston sealed his fate.
Cut (0): None.
Comments: Economos is taking over for the retired Dave Moore. Economos won't see time with the regular offensive line, but he's had a fine preseason getting the ball back to Bidwell for punts and field goals.
The final cuts will be announced around 4 p.m. Saturday. It should be a very interesting day.
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. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.