Buccaneers Mail Bag: March 12

Our Bucsblitz.com Tampa Bay Buccaneers mail bag is back after a long absence due to the rigors of covering free agency. For this edition, our expert, Matthew Postins, will field seven more questions from one user and provide analysis on players like Michael Bennett, Sabby Piscitelli, the Bucs' wide receivers and Quincy Black. Get the inside scoop right here.

Woof69: Does Michael Bennett step up and provide the effective game breaking running back we need? He hardly touched the ball after arriving last year. Hard to believe he didn't carry the ball because he didn't fully know the playbook. Easy enough to send him in with a play and tell him he's getting the hand off in the two gap.

Matthew Postins: You could be underestimating the complexity of Jon Gruden's playbook, but I get your point and I agree. The Buccaneers made noise about giving Bennett a package of plays to work with so he could be effective in the offense, and I think they actually did that. But Bennett was, in my opinion, underused. The reason? Gruden did not have a trust level with Bennett that he had with, say Earnest Graham, who had been with the Bucs for four years and knew the system. That trust level is a big reason why some players will see a lot of action one week and none the next in Tampa Bay. Gruden has little patience in that regard. Now, as for this season, I see Warrick Dunn stealing some of Bennett's thunder now that he is signed, because they're essentially the same back — short, shifty and speedy, but with a dash of power. Dunn is probably a better receiver out of the backfield, too. I could see Bennett getting 7-10 touches per game, mostly handoffs on plays that get him outside so he can use that speed. But I could also see him getting completely lost in the offense because Gruden likes to use his new toys. And Dunn is his newest toy, not Bennett.

Woof69: Will Quincy Black be the linebacker we need for the future?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Quincy Black could be the heir to Derrick Brooks' weak side linebacker position. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Matthew Postins: I think he's off to a promising start after the season he had on special teams. He made some great open-field tackles and flashed that sub-4.4 speed that scouts were drooling over before the Bucs made him their third-round pick (a pick I correctly predicted, by the way). I think Black will eventually get his chance because Derrick Brooks has two years left on his current deal (through 2009) and I would expect him to retire by then. There is also some rumbling that Cato June will remain the strong-side linebacker, even if Brooks retires. One must also take into account that June's contract expires in 2009, as well. So there could be two places for Black to slip into by then. At 6-foot-2, 227 pounds, Black projects as a weak-side linebacker, so he'll likely have to wait two more years. But the two-year wait certainly benefited Barrett Ruud, who seamlessly moved into the middle linebacker spot last season. Black could do the same thing. You can't teach his blend of speed and ability, and he showed flashes in the final two games last year that he better understands the scheme. If the Bucs don't take a linebacker in this draft, I think that's an indication that they still have faith in Black's development.

Woof69: Will Sabby Piscitelli bounce back from his injury and be ready to start?

Matthew Postins: He'll be ready. In fact, when I talked to Sabby after the playoff loss he was physically ready to go. Now, will he start? That's another story. Piscitelli, to me, projects as the Bucs' potential strong side starter at safety, but there's one thing standing in his way — Jermaine Phillips. Phillips had a great year last year (after a sub-standard one in 2006), but he has just one year remaining on his contract. The Bucs have made noise about extending several of their 2009 free agents, and it's assumed that Phillips will be one of them. If the Bucs don't extend his contract, then I think that could be an indication that the Bucs believe Piscitelli could be their starter in 2009. What makes it hard to evaluate Piscitelli is the injury. He'll basically be a rookie again in 2008 and he'll have to prove himself all over again. What I like about him is what the coaches like about him — he has a nose for the football and isn't afraid to hit. I think Phillips holds him off in 2008, but Piscitelli could see plenty of playing time in nickel and dime formations, given the Bucs' lack of depth at cornerback right now.

Woof69: Can Parris Warren recover and be as good as he looked in the preseason?

Matthew Postins: Expect that to be one of the big storylines of 2008. Warren's injury really did a number on the Buccaneers' passing game, I thought. Warren probably would have been given a shot to be the No. 3 receiver in the early weeks of the season and he might have taken control of the job from Michael Clayton. Now he has to prove himself all over again. If Warren can come back and regain his preseason form, that could give them another solid option after Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard. In fact, given the Bucs' inactivity at wide receiver in free agency, it appears they're banking on that. I talked to Warren in January and he said the injury was healed. He's ready to go. Now we have to see if he can reclaim the ability he flashed last season. We'll start to get an idea next month when organized team activities begin. But I'll make a prediction and say that Warren will be a part of the passing game in 2008, barring injury.

Woof69: Which wide receivers get the axe if we bring in more free agents?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Clayton could be cut if he isn't able to beat out a crowded field at wide receiver. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Matthew Postins: This is a hard one, because I really don't believe the Bucs are going to bring in any more free agents at wide receiver (although we've just learned that the Bucs will visit with D.J. Hackett this week, so stay tuned. I could be wrong on this one). If they make a move, they're more likely to do it via trade or in the draft. But expect the Bucs to keep six wide receivers in the regular season. Galloway and Hilliard are probably the only two players who could be guaranteed work. If the Bucs take a wide receiver in the first round or acquire one via trade, that would make three. So you would have 10 players competing for three spots, with the front-runners being Clayton, Maurice Stovall, Paris Warren and Antonio Bryant. Clayton has underachieved the last three years and I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs tried to unload him via trade. In fact, if Stovall, Warren and Bryant all have good camps, I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs cut Clayton. Stovall is coming off an injury and it's unclear how that will affect him. Warren is in the same boat. Bryant is a reclamation project who has had spotty NFL production. The point I'm trying to make? After Galloway and Hilliard, the race at the position is a free for all and, at the moment, the Bucs have not added any more talent, in my opinion. But two guys to watch are Chad Lucas, who had a solid game against Carolina and has the speed to be a deep threat; and Micheal Spurlock, who is really a returner but is listed as a wide receiver and could take up one of those six spots if he makes the team.

But the real answer to your question? Right now, I believe the wide receivers of note that are most likely to be cut after the preseason are Clayton and Bryant.

Woof69: How long can our older stars like Derrick Brooks, Joey Galloway, Ronde Barber and, to a lesser degree, Ike Hilliard, continue to excel?

Matthew Postins: Age will be a big factor for all of these players soon. Brooks, 34, as I outlined earlier, has two years left on his contract but doesn't appear to be slowing down. Same goes for Galloway, 35. I would expect both to fulfill the life of their contract. After that their returns boils down to how well they're playing, their desire to keep playing and if the Bucs have players waiting to take their places. Right now they don't. Barber is signed through 2010 and I could see him playing beyond that contract for another year. Hilliard will continue to be a reliable receiver for the next few years. He's incredibly crafty and runs precise, reliable routes that any quarterback will love. His game, unlike Galloway's, isn't built on speed and his body doesn't have to be 100 percent for him to get the most out of it (or did you miss last season?). Oddly, I think Hilliard will outlast them all and play for the next five years or so. As far as excelling, I believe all four players will perform at a high level in 2008. The most potential for a drop-off lies with Galloway, who's body could betray him at any minute, no matter how many precautions Gruden takes.

Woof69: Is Luke McCown ready to step up and take over if Jeff Garcia dumbs it to death with a head-first collision in a meaningless first quarter play?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Luke McCown would appear to be out of chances with the acquisition of Brian Griese. (Bill Haber/AP Photo)
Matthew Postins: You're not trying to say that Garcia takes needless chances, are you? First we'll tackle McCown. I like the guy. If you read this site enough, you know that I've covered McCown since high school, so I have a pretty good feel for him as a player. I think he has the makeup to be a competent NFL starter, perhaps on a regular basis. His build, arm strength and mobility all make him a good fit for Gruden's offense. But he struggled with getting rid of the football in key situations, and that comes down to the decision-making that separates good quarterbacks from great quarterbacks. McCown took sacks when he should have gotten rid of the ball. That's something that can be learned, though. Feeling pressure — something he also struggled with — isn't. The Bucs apparently don't think he's ready, if the trade for Brian Griese is any indication. I fully expect Griese to be the No. 2 quarterback this season and for McCown — in the final year of his contract — to be the No. 3. I think it's unfortunate, because with more development and playing time, McCown could grow into a solid, consistent starter. I just don't believe it will happen in Tampa Bay.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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