Observation Deck: Midseason Grades Part I

At the midway point the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 4-4 and still in the NFC South race. How have the Buccaneers' offensive players done this season? I set out to grade every offensive player of note so far in this edition of the "Observation Deck." How did your favorite Buc do? Find out in this exclusive premium piece.

Tampa Bay enters the second half of the season ranked 23rd in points scored (18.4 ppg), 17th in total yards (323.6 ypg), 15th in total passing (216.8 ypg) and 17th in total rushing (106.9 ypg). Here are my grades for the players that helped get them to this point. In the interest of fairness, I did not grade players that either didn't have a body of work with the team or have played little this season.

FB B.J. Askew: He has backfield skills, but he's primarily a fullback and he's softened the blow of Mike Alstott's injury during training camp. He's provided solid blocking. Plus, he's caught 10 passes for 90 yards, giving Jeff Garcia a nice safety valve when plays break down. Grade — B

TE Anthony Becht: He hasn't caught a pass this season. Alex Smith asserted himself as the starter to open the season and Jerramy Stevens is getting Smith's receptions now that he's hurt. Becht is mostly a blocker whose pass-catching skills are going unutilized. Grade — C

RB Michael Bennett: While he's shown glimmers of being a solid contributor, it's hard to grade Bennett's impact after two games. Grade — Incomplete

PK Matt Bryant: He's 9-of-11 kicking field goals this year, and he has a game-winner on his resume. Plus, he's become one of the better directional kickers in the NFL on kickoffs. Grade — B+

G Dan Buenning: The third-year pro has been inactive all eight games as he continues to learn the nuances of being a center. Until John Wade gets hurt, he won't sniff the field. Grade — Incomplete

WR Michael Clayton: He's caught just six passes for 109 yards this year, but three of those catches had come in the two games before he was hurt against Detroit. That seems to be his M.O. — getting hurt just as things begin to turn around for him. With his talent, he really should be a much bigger part of this offense. Grade — D

T Anthony Davis: Even when Luke Petitgout went down for the season, he had no chance to be a starter at left tackle, despite being a two-year veteran of the position. He's active on game days now, but nothing else unless Donald Penn gets hurt. Grade — Incomplete

WR Joey Galloway: He's the only deep threat the Bucs have. He's caught three touchdown passes, all long ones. He's gone to the background a few games due to Ike Hilliard's emergence, but his speed makes him a receiver the defense must account for every play. He's dropped a few catchable passes, though. Grade — B

QB Jeff Garcia: He's solidified a position Jon Gruden has long struggled with. Despite his mistakes the past two games, it's difficult to be unhappy with a QB who normally avoids mistakes, completes more than 66 percent of his passes and leads with his savvy. Grade — B+

QBs Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown: There's nothing to grade, as both have played little this season — and done little when they did play. Grade — Incomplete

RB Earnest Graham: He's seized an opportunity to show that he can be a solid complementary back at the NFL level. He had a great game against Detroit and performed solidly last week against Jacksonville. He'll never be a No. 1 back, but he's ensured that he'll remain employed in the NFL for a few more years. And he's given the Bucs a boost in Carnell Williams' absence. Grade — B

TE Keith Heinrich: Signed after Alex Smith was hurt. He actually played a down on offense last week. But once Smith is ready, he's likely gone. Grade — Incomplete

WR Ike Hilliard: Now we know why Jon Gruden was so high on him in training camp. He leads the Bucs in receptions and has become Jeff Garcia's most reliable target. You wish he was five years younger, but he's having the kind of year that made him a star in New York. Grade — B+

G Davin Joseph: He's committed a couple of key penalties at critical moments this season, but otherwise his play has been solid. I did expect him to be more dominant on a consistent basis, and I've only seen it on tape a couple of games. Grade — C

G Matt Lehr: He's there for depth. Given his fumbling problems in preseason, the Bucs hope they don't have to use him. He's been active every game, but only played special teams. Grade — Incomplete

WR Chad Lucas: On the roster out of necessity, Lucas played for the first time last week and returned a kickoff. Grade — Incomplete

T Donald Penn: Was dropped into a tough situation with the injury to Luke Petitout. Largely, Penn has played solidly against some pretty talented defensive ends. No one expects him to be dominant, but he's expected to avoid mistakes. He's done that for the most part. Grade — C

RB Michael Pittman: Had one great game against Carolina, and then was hurt. Before that he provided complementary rushing and passing to Carnell Williams and was his reliable self. He certainly wasn't having a spectacular year, even as a pass catcher. He's missed the past three games due to injury. Grade — C

G Arron Sears: The Bucs drafted him with the intent of starting him, and he's delivered in that regard. He's made the usual rookie mistakes, but you see the talent the Bucs saw in him during his days in Tennessee. It's just that talent comes in flashes. He's a solid road grader and he's still developing in pass protection. Grade — C

TE Alex Smith: I wonder, sometimes, why the Bucs don't use him more. He has good hands, he's a big target and his improved blocking makes him a three-down player now. Yet he's only caught 14 passes and a pair of touchdowns. What gives? He missed the Jacksonville game to injury. Grade — C

TE Jerramy Stevens: He's made some solid catches in Smith's absence the past two games. But before that? Nothing. Plus, there's the off-field distraction in his DUI from earlier this season. Grade — C-

FB Byron Storer: Played last week on special teams. Signed from the practice squad after the Bucs released Zack Crockett. Grade — Incomplete

WR Maurice Stovall: The Bucs want this guy to step up in a big way, whether Clayton gets back soon from his injury or not. He showed flashes of his talent last week against Jacksonville. He also committed two penalties. He's a mixed bag. The Bucs wanted playing time from him a lot sooner this season. Grade — D

T Jeremy Trueblood: He's definitely made progress from his rookie year to this season. He appears to be better at the point of attack and is moving his feet better. But there's something missing for him to go from being good to being great, and it's likely the quickness needed to handle true speed rushers. Grade — C

C John Wade: He's been his usual self this season, though he was involved in those two fumbles in Detroit. He keeps the Bucs in the right line calls, but he's not terribly physical, which is why the Bucs one day want Buenning there. But for now he's the right choice. Grade — C+

Other grades

QB Chris Simms: Never played. Should have been on IR to begin with. The situation with his recovery from the spleen injury and the Bucs' repeated claims that he was healthy seem hollow now. Grade — Incomplete

RB Carnell Williams: Rushed for nearly four yards per carry and three touchdowns before his injury. I got the sense that he was beginning to round into shape behind an offensive line that started to hum. Then the injury really discombobulated things. The Bucs miss his explosiveness and his injury caused big depth problems in the backfield that eventually necessitated a trade. He also had some fumbling issues. Grade — C

FB Mike Alstott: Everyone wishes he was playing. Grade — Incomplete

T Luke Petitgout: It's probably no coincidence that the running game became less productive with him out of the lineup after the Carolina game. The run game is just now recovering. His veteran presence and reliable pass and run blocking made his injury the biggest blow to this offense and maybe the whole team. He made the entire offensive line better. Grade — B

T Chris Denman: Went on IR before the season. Grade — Incomplete

WR Paris Warren: You really get the feeling that he was primed to do something in this offense, and that's what makes his injury so heartbreaking if you're in the Bucs organization. They waited two years to see what Warren could do and he ended up hurt. Grade — Incomplete

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 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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