The Bucs, position by position

Here is a position-by-position analysis of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entering Sunday's game against Seattle:

Here is a position-by-position analysis of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entering Sunday's game against Seattle:

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Jeff Garcia. Backups -- Luke McCown, Bruce Gradkowski, Chris Simms

Garcia, 37, is the perfect fit for coach Jon Gruden and his offense. He was declared the starter early in the off-season, in part because Chris Simms still is struggling to recover from surgery to remove his spleen last Sept.

Garcia's 95.8 quarterback rating with the Eagles last season was 30 points higher than that of Gradkowski, who was forced to start 11 games as a rookie in 2006. Garcia's accuracy and ability to make throws on the run will help the Bucs utilize all their weapons. It certainly will help the running game and Cadillac Williams. McCown, who missed most of last season recovering from a torn ACL, likely earn the No. 2 job and has shown a strong, accurate arm and great mobility. Gradkowski made strides late the preseason. Simms is the fourth quarterback on the roster.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Cadillac Williams, Michael Pittman. Backups -- Earnest Graham, B.J. Askew

Williams took a giant step backward in his second pro season after winning Rookie of the Year, rushing for 798 yards (3.5 avg.) and one touchdown. He was impatient at times, trying to force the big play. Williams missed the final two games with a foot injury.

Prior to that, he had been given about 80 percent of the rushing attempts. That might be too much for Williams, who shared the load at Auburn with Ronnie Brown and shows signs of wearing down.

He will still be the primary weapon and may improve as a receiver, benefiting from Garcia's ability to check down to his backs. FB Mike Alstott went on I.R. with a neck injury that will likely end his career. The Bucs will turn to Pittman to play fullback and gives Gruden another receiving weapon. The traditional FB in short yardage will be B.J. Askew, the Jets' free agent. Look for Alabama rookie Kenneth Darby to surprise, especially on third down.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Alex Smith. Backups -- Anthony Becht, Jerramy Stevens

Smith has the ability to stretch the field but needs to improve as a blocker. The Bucs added Stevens, who could be effective in the red zone. With Garcia, the tight ends could be utilized more in the passing game. Becht still is the best blocking tight end for the Bucs. Not the strength of the offense, but a unit with good depth. Heinrich could benefit from Smith's ankle injury.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Joey Galloway, David Boston. Backups -- Maurice Stovall, Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton

At 35, Galloway is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, which is quite a trick given the revolving door at quarterback. On the other hand, Clayton is starting to look like a bust. After leading all rookies with 80 catches and seven TDs in 2004, Clayton has just 65 catches and one touchdown the last two seasons. Stovall, the second-year pro from Notre Dame, showed flashes when he started the final two games. He is making a challenge to win the No. 2 job. The rest, like Hilliard, are there in case of emergency. Boston is back for his second stint with the Bucs but looks to stick this time.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Luke Petitgout, LG Arron Sears, C John Wade, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood. Backups -- T Anthony Davis, G Anthony Davis, C Matt Lehr, T Donald Penn

Last year, the Bucs acquired guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jerry Trueblood. They are both still green but growing. The Bucs are building a solid offensive line through the draft. If Petitgout, the Giants free agent, can hold up at left tackle, Garcia should have enough time to operate.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- RDE Gaines Adams, UT Jovan Haye, NT Chris Hovan, LDE Kevin Carter. Backups -- DE Patrick Chukwurah, DE Greg Spires, DT Greg Peterson

The Bucs had some issues on the defensive line last season, the primary reason the defensive slipped to 17th overall. Start with Simeon Rice, who had two sacks through eight games before a shoulder injury ended his season. He was released before training camp. The Bucs finished with just 25 sacks, the third fewest in the NFL. Ellis Wyms, Greg Spires and Dewayne White tied for the team lead with five each, but Wyms was released. White went to Detroit as a free agent and the Bucs replaced him with Dolphins veteran Kevin Carter, who could be moved to under tackle.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WSLB Derrick Brooks, MLB Barrett Ruud, SSLB Cato June. Backups -- Quincy Black, Ryan Nece, Adam Hayward

The biggest loss in the off-season for the Bucs might be Shelton Quarles, who was told he couldn't pass a physical and likely will retire. Former second-round pick Barrett Ruud takes over in the middle of the defense. Ruud doesn't excel in coverage but no worries. The Bucs attracted Colts free agent linebacker Cato June to Tampa Bay. He is probably the eventual successor to Derrick Brooks at weak-side linebacker. But the Godfather isn't ready for the gold watch. Tampa Bay is high on New Mexico linebacker Quincy Black. He is a big hitter who played the rover position, made famous by Brian Urlacher, for the Lobos. Ryan Nece returns to special teams duty with the addition of backing up Ruud.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Brian Kelly, RCB Ronde Barber, FS Will Allen, SS Jermaine Phillips. Backups -- Phillip Buchanon, Sabby Piscitelli, Tanard Jackson

With no help from a pass rush, opposing quarterbacks picked apart the Bucs' secondary last season and enjoyed a 91.0 passer efficiency rating. The Bucs had just eight interceptions, including three in one game.

Cornerback Brian Kelly played in just two games before having to shut it down with a turf toe injury. Barber was the only Bucs player selected to the Pro Bowl, mostly on the strength of his reputation and two INTs returned for touchdowns against the Eagles. Safeties Phillips and Allen were liabilities, especially early in the season. They missed tackles and rarely broke up passes. The Bucs believe the return of defensive backs coach Raheem Morris will erase the mistakes. Morris has some talent to work with.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Matt Bryant. P Josh Bidwell. LS Andrew Economos, KR Michael Pittman

Bidwell was a busy man. He averaged 43.5 yards on 93 punts. At least the Bucs have settled on a reliable field goal kicker. Matt Bryant was 17-of-22 on field-goal attempts, including a game-winning, 62-yarder on the final play against the Eagles. What the Bucs lack is a reliable kickoff and punt returner. Michael Pittman was a steady, if unspectacular kickoff returner who averaged 22.2 with a long of 37.


Bucs Blitz Top Stories