The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are just six games into the 2008 season, but it's never too late to start thinking out free agency in 2009. Scout.com's Adam Caplan has confirmed that at least 11 Bucs will be restricted or unrestricted free agents in 2009. How do they fit into the Bucs' plans for 2009 and beyond? Get the scoop right here.
For the third time in as many years, the Bucs lost a starting player after their first meeting of the season with the Panthers.
Fullback Byron Storer said he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while covering a kickoff in Sunday's 27-3 win over Carolina. He is expected to be placed on injured reserve, ending his season.
Storer joins a growing list of Bucs' players who have paid a high price for playing the Panthers. Two years ago, quarterback Chris Simms suffered a ruptured spleen in the first of two games with Carolina. Last season, running back Cadillac Williams (torn patellar tendon) and tackle Luke Petitgout (torn knee ligaments) suffered season-ending injuries against the division rival.
None of those players have participated in a regular-season NFL game since.
"We're in trouble right now at fullback,' coach Jon Gruden said Monday."
Starting fullback B.J. Askew has missed the last three games with a torn hamstring and is likely at least a week away from returning to the lineup.
With the trade deadline Tuesday, the avenues for the Bucs to acquire a fullback are dwindling.
Tampa Bay may opt to sign a free agent with experience in the system like Jameel Cook, who was released by the Houston Texans earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Storer, who had done an admirable job filling in for Askew, is dealing with the first major injury of his career.
"It's bad news," Storer said Monday while wearing a knee brace. "I was just trying to play over the top of a guy and the leg gave out. It wasn't a hit or anything. It was the funniest thing...I had never had problems with knees or anything. I've never really have a major injury."
Storer is not alone. The Bucs sustained two other serious injuries Sunday. Starting left guard Arron Sears suffered a right knee sprain and receiver Maurice Stovall has a pulled hamstring. Neither player was able to finish Sunday's game.
Tight end Alex Smith is the emergency fullback, but asking Graham to change roles is not in the plan.
"You know what? Earnest is a heck of a tailback," Gruden said of his team's leading rusher. "We possibly could be looking for a fullback. Obviously, moving a tight end into that position has always been a part of our contingency plan."
WR Joey Galloway, who missed the past four games with a foot sprain, is expected to practice Wednesday. "He had a good pregame workout," Gruden said. "He goes out there before the game and my brother, Jay, threw him about a hundred balls, ran on different routes. I thought he felt better. There's a chance he'll give it a go on Wednesday. I would say he is questionable at this point for Seattle. It's his former team, the team that drafted him. It's probably a little incentive for him to go up against his former team, but I don't know. I really don't know. We will have to update you when we see him for real Wednesday."
Division on the upswing?: The NFC South may turn out to be a better division than most thought before the season. Three teams - the Bucs, Falcons and Panthers - are tied at 4-2. New Orleans is 3-3.
"In spite of what all the analysts said before the season. Again, (Matt Ryan) in Atlanta is for real," Gruden said. "He's a great, blossoming superstar in this game. Everybody seems to be good. I just hope we keep winning and take care of our business."
Gruden downplays penalties: Bucs coach Jon Gruden reacted calmly to the penalties his team received for taunting following interceptions. "I try not to temper enthusiasm," Gruden said. "I try to coach enthusiasm. Our coaches try to stimulate the players to be enthusiastic. You only live once. There's no sense walking around like a dull boy."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--FB Byron Storer has a torn right ACL and is out for the season. He was injured recovering a kickoff against the Panthers.
--RB Earnest Graham, who volunteered to play FB against Carolina Sunday, will return to his role as a featured back Sunday.
--WR Joey Galloway ran routes and caught about 100 passes prior to Sunday's game. Despite a sprain right foot, he is expected to practice Wednesday.
--WR Maurice Stovall suffered a hamstring strain in Sunday's win over Carolina. He is expected to be questionable against the Seahawks.
--G Arron Sears has a right knee sprain and is not expected to play Sunday against Carolina.
--G Jeremy Zuttah, who started the first four games at right guard, could get the call at left guard if Arron Sears is unable to play.
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- QB Jeff Garcia looked like the guy who led the Bucs to an NFC title and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. He completed 15-of-20 with a touchdown and no interceptions. More importantly, he averaged more than 9 yards per attempt when the club average heading into the game was 5.45.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Credit Earnest Graham for volunteering to play FB after the injury to starter Byron Storer. He paved the way for Warrick Dunn to rush for 115 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Using an array of zone blitzes, the Bucs forced QB Jake Delhomme to hold the football longer than he wanted. Delhomme had never lost at RJS, but he was intercepted three times and the Bucs dropped three other INTs.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Bucs are the only team that has not allowed a rushing TD this season. They bottled up running backs DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart to combine for 39 yards on 17 carries.
COACHING: A -- Jon Gruden has his team in first place after dominating a very good football team. Enough said.