Behind Enemy Lines: Seattle/Tampa Bay, Part 1

In Part One of our four-part preview of the Seahawks' regular-season opener against Tampa Bay, Matthew Postins of answers the first five of ten questions from Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar. What difference has Jeff Garcia made for the Buccaneers, where is the Chris Simms situation headed, and what does Jerramy Stevens' new team expect of him?

Doug Farrar: Tampa Bay signed 38-year-old quarterback Jeff Garcia in the offseason. Have they benefited from the same Garcia who surprised everyone last year by helping the Eagles win the NFC East? Can he lead this team to significant offensive improvement?

Matthew Postins: I believe Garcia will account for a couple of extra victories this year, simply because he’s a veteran with plenty of knowledge in the West Coast offense. If he stays healthy, he’ll do his part. But there are so many other areas of concern on this offense, including questions about Carnell Williams’ ability to carry a full rushing load and the continued re-making of the offensive line, and those questions threaten to cancel out the good Garcia can do for the offense.

DF: Speaking of quarterbacks, there has been a lot of speculation about the future of Chris Simms, and not a lot of talk from Jon Gruden. Has Simms recovered from his spleenectomy, and do you think he’ll be in Tampa Bay much longer?

MP: Physically, he’s recovered 100 percent, he’s told us. But as a quarterback, Simms still has work to do. He came back too early from the injury, and because of that he developed faulty mechanics and a sore elbow. He told us after the final preseason game that if he was needed against Seattle, he could go. That’s a big assertion if you’ve only played one series this year. Gruden has tired of the questions, and I haven’t seen Simms in the locker room since he made the 53-man roster.

There’s speculation that this is a power struggle between Gruden and the Glazer family, with the Glazers intent on keeping Simms because they feel he’s the future. The worst this team is this year, I think, the better Gruden’s chances of being fired — and Simms’ chances of staying beyond 2007 — get.

DF: After winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2005, Cadillac Williams rushed for 3.5 yards per carry and scored one rushing TD In 2006. How much of the decline is Williams’ fault, and how much is the offense around him?

MP: There were many factors at work last year. Williams had back spasms to start the year, and a foot injury to end the year. The offensive line lost three starters from 2005, leading them to start two rookies on the right side. Gruden lost confidence in the offensive line, leading him to put the game in the hands of his rookie quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski, most notoriously in the Meadowlands last year when he had Gradkowski throw nearly 50 passes in swirling winds. Williams also became a more tentative runner as the year wore on.

It should be noted that, if you look at his production in increments of five carries — and I’ve done the math — his yards-per-carry average last year once he reached 15 carries didn’t differ much from his Rookie of the Year campaign. All that said, Williams could be in for another difficult season. There’s only one opening-day starter returning on the line (John Wade) and Williams has seen little action. Plus, Gruden seems intent on using more three wide-receiver formations, which takes away the chance of a lead blocker for Williams. One bright spot? Against Miami he had his best preseason game ever and had two runs that were reminiscent of his ability in 2005. Both came without a lead blocker.

DF: Along with the seemingly ageless Joey Galloway (a man with whom Seattle fans are most familiar), which other receivers will Garcia be throwing to?

MP: Gruden said earlier this week that it will be a flanker-by-committee in the early part of this year. That means you could see Maurice Stovall, Michael Clayton, David Boston or Ike Hilliard opposite Galloway. That’s because none of them really stepped up and took control of the job during training camp and preseason. But, they all had solid camps. It could work to Tampa Bay’s advantage. As I mentioned, Gruden will use more three wide receiver sets this year, so they’ll all see plenty of reps. And with three solid tight ends, plus Michael Pittman coming out of the backfield, there’s potential for several of these guys to have productive seasons.

DF: And speaking of ex-Seahawks receivers … TE Jerramy Stevens will miss some practice this week as he deals with his ongoing legal issues. What have you seen from Stevens in the preseason – ability, consistency, conditioning, character – and do you think he’ll be a difference-maker for Tampa Bay?

MP: I’ll give this to Stevens — he hasn’t shied away from questions about his past. He’s answered them all with class and remorse. Perhaps he’s matured after his problems in Seattle. Physically, he looks like he’s in great shape. I personally thought Stevens was on the bubble until last week against Houston, when he caught seven passes for nearly 100 yards. He was the Bucs’ second-leading receiver in preseason with nine catches.

I don’t recall seeing him drop a pass in the preseason, either. I think the Bucs are enamored with his size and you’ll see him a lot on Sunday, even though he’ll miss two days of practice. He worked out with the team on Sunday and Monday, so Gruden feels Stevens will have the game plan down.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for 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 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007. Feel free to e-mail him here. Top Stories