QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Chris Simms. Backups - Jay Fiedler, Tim Rattay, Bruce Gradkowski.
The Bucs have turned over the huddle to Chris Simms. In his 11 games, including 10 starts last season, Simms completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,035 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 81.4. He went 5-1 against the NFC South, leading the Bucs to a division title. "It's great just going into off-season workouts knowing that I am the starter and the organization is looking to me," Simms said. "Of course, I'm extremely excited about that opportunity. I haven't been in this position in a few years, since college really, and I think again, it just goes back to the direction our team is trying to go right now. We've got a good nucleus and we're just trying to build from there." After Simms, the cupboard is bare. Brian Griese signed with the Bears as a free agent. Backup Luke McCown suffered a torn ACL in off-season workouts and is likely lost for the year. The Bucs were forced to scramble and signed Fiedler, who is coming off shoulder surgery. The Bucs traded for Rattay as a safeguard last year after Griese's season-ending knee injury.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - RB Carnell "Cadillac' Williams, FB Mike Alstott. Backups - RB Michael Pittman, RB Earnest Graham, RB Derek Watson, FB Jerald Sowell.
Williams, the NFL's Rookie of the Year, has a chance to win a rushing title or two before his career is over. He rushed for an NFL-record 434 yards in his first three games -- the most ever by a first-year player. But he can be better. He missed two games with a foot injury and had less than 30 yards rushing in three others. "Now I definitely have a bulls-eye on my chest," Williams said. "I'm not going to come into the season and surprise people. I'm going to have to work that much harder in the off-season and I'll definitely welcome the challenge and I'm looking forward to it." Pittman, who restructured his contract to remain with the team, is a capable backup and better receiver. Alstott has little remaining in the tank and will retire after his 11th season. The Bucs signed Sowell to give them some blocking help in short-yardage situations. Graham and Watson will battle for the remaining spots.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Anthony Becht. Backups - Alex Smith, Dave Moore.
Becht is the incumbent starter and excels at run blocking. But he caught just 16 passes in 2005, the second-fewest in his career. The Bucs believe that Smith is a budding superstar. As a rookie from Stanford, Smith finished second on the team with 41 catches. The Bucs will deploy a lot of two tight end formations and Smith may be used as a split end in three receiver formations.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton. Backups - Ike Hilliard, Maurice Stovall, David Boston, Edell Shepherd, Larry Brackins, Mark Jones.
The Bucs need Clayton to return to his rookie form. A year after leading all NFL rookies with 1,178 yards receiving and six touchdowns, Clayton finished fifth on his team last season with 32 catches and no scores. He missed the entire off-season recovering from knee surgery and reported to training camp out of shape. In the second preseason game, he dislocated his shoulder.
"Interstate 80 has to be open," Gruden said. "It can't be like this I-4 with all these g------ detours, you know what I mean? You've got to have a nice, smooth ride when you line up with whoever the flanker is in this offense.
"He didn't seem to have the same focus - we've talked privately a lot about that. He did not have the same kind of year for a lot of reasons. I think the injuries, the surgeries, all those things caught up with him."
The Bucs are hoping to squeeze another career year out of Galloway, who led the team with 10 touchdowns last season. Stovall, the Bucs' third-round pick from Notre Dame, and Boston, who signed as a free agent, will give Simms two more big targets.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Anthony Davis, LG Dan Buenning, C Sean Mahan, RG Davin Joseph, RT Kenyatta Walker. Backups - C John Wade, G Toniu Fonoti, G Jeb Terry, T Jeremy Trueblood, T Torrin Tucker.
The Bucs will have all five offensive linemen who started 17 games in 2005. But they likely won't all have a chance to continue that streak. The Bucs used their first two draft choices on offensive linemen - Joseph, the guard from Oklahoma; and Trueblood, the tackle from Boston College. Pencil Joseph in as the starting right guard, meaning Mahan will likely move to center and take Wade's job. Terry is still a year, maybe less, away from unseating Walker. Fonoti and Tucker will provide some much needed depth.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LDE Greg Spires, NT Chris Hovan, DT Anthony McFarland, RDE Simeon Rice. Backups - DE Dewayne White, DT Ellis Wyms, DT Anthony Bryant.
It's an aging group, to be sure. But the Bucs showed no signs of slowing down last season and actually got better against the run with the addition of Hovan, who was retained as a free agent in the off-season. Rice, who was suspended by the team for a game for missing a meeting, still is among the NFL's best at rushing the quarterback. McFarland played 16 games last season, which was a statement for the oft-injured tackle. The Bucs also need to find some playing time for White, who will become a free agent after 2006.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WSLB Derrick Brooks, MLB Shelton Quarles, SSLB Ryan Nece. Backups - Jamie Winborne, Barrett Ruud, Marquis Cooper.
Brooks agreed to restructure his contract and take a pay cut in exchange for the chance to finish his career in Tampa Bay. He isn't the dominant player that made him a nine-time Pro Bowler, but he still can take over games at critical moments. Quarles will try to hold off Ruud, the Bucs' second-round pick in 2005. The best battle is between Nece and Winborne, the free agent from Jacksonville.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Ronde Barber, RCB Brian Kelly, SS Jermaine Phillips, FS Will Allen. Backups - CB Alan Zemaitis, CB Blue Adams, CB Tori Cox, S Donte Nicholson, S Steve Cargile.
The lone starter not returning to the Bucs is free safety Dexter Jackson, who signed with the Bengals as a free agent. Allen, the third-year pro from Ohio St., proved he is ready to handle the job. But Phillips has been plagued by injuries in each of the past three seasons, so depth is a big concern for the Bucs. Tampa Bay is excited about Zemaitis, the rookie from Penn State.
SPECIAL TEAMS - PK Matt Bryant, P Josh Bidwell, LS Dave Moore, PR Mark Jones, KOR Michael Pittman.
Bryant made 83 percent of his field goals, including missing once from 29-49-yards. The Bucs made re-signing him a priority in the off-season. Bidwell is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The Bucs are still looking for someone to break the franchise drought of no kickoffs returned for a touchdown.
Unit by Unit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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