Bucs A Team In Transition

The Vikings' opening-day opponent isn't the same team that left the division when the NFL re-aligned. The defense is still good, but it isn't as dominant or as experienced, and the offense has a lot of proving to do. Get the insight on the new-look Buccaneers from Tampa.

The Bucs are a team in transition, and the transformation is not nearly complete.

Tampa Bay kept 11 of 12 players from its 2005 draft class and 21 players have two years experience or less. As many as three first-year players could start the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Minnesota.

Not surprisingly, all of them are on offense. Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams was penciled into the lineup the minute he became the fifth overall pick, forcing Michael Pittman to step aside. Guard Dan Buenning, a fourth-round pick from Wisconsin, is pushing veteran Matt Stinchcomb, who made his only preseason appearance Thursday night. Finally, third-round pick Alex Smith could start the way he did in three of four preseason games if the Bucs open with a two-tight end set against the Vikings.

"If they are our best players, then I'm all for that," Gruden said. "I'm looking forward to Carnell Williams going wire to wire and getting his career started.

"Despite all the people that think I don't like young players, I've done it before and I'll do it again if they're our best players."

The Bucs defense has finished in the top 10 for eight straight seasons and should do it again in ‘05. But they are not the dominant defense that won a Super Bowl three years ago.

If the Bucs can improve their 29th ranking in rushing offense, protect quarterback Brian Griese, avoid turnovers and make field goals, they have a chance to flirt with .500 and maybe a wildcard.

Three keys to the season:

1. Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams must be a franchise running back befitting of the No. 5 overall pick. Williams is the Bucs' hope to improve a 29th-ranked rushing attack and could give the offense balance. He has to provide some explosive plays.

2. Bucs offensive line must improve. Three starters have one year or less experience. This unit allowed 44 sacks a year ago.

3. Place-kicker Matt Bryant has to make at least 80 percent of his FG attempts.



PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • WR Joey Galloway: At 33, Galloway can still stretch the field and will make an impact if he remains healthy, particularly with Michael Clayton working underneath.

  • DT Chris Hovan: Former No. 1 draft pick of the Vikings is anchoring the middle of the Bucs defense and could help them improve against the run.

  • QB Brian Griese: Second year in coach Jon Gruden's offense and could improve with more balanced play-calling.



    PLAYER NOTES

  • OT Derrick Deese was released Sunday despite not playing in any preseason games. The Bucs have cleared him to play and GM Bruce Allen indicated Deese might file a grievance claiming he is injured and should've received a settlement or been placed on injured reserve.

    "Really, what took place is he missed so much of training camp," Allen said of Deese. "He got so far behind that it was too late to probably try and come back at this point. There's a discrepancy between the two parties on the injury, maybe. But we feel he's cleared to play right now."

  • PK Matt Bryant won the job over former Viking Todd France. Bryant, 30, who connected on a 52-yard field goal Thursday against the Texans, went 4-of-5 in the preseason. His only miss was a 53-yarder against Jacksonville. But he might have won the job by the depth of his kickoffs.

    "Let me first say we liked them both and Todd did a very good job for us," GM Bruce Allen said. "Matt showed a lot, not only on kicking field goals, but on kickoffs. His kickoffs measured out considerably better and his power gave us great comfort. They're both in a very good groove right now and we just felt we ought to go with Matt."

  • One of the biggest surprises was the Bucs' decision to keep receiver Larry Brackins, a fifth-round pick from Pearl River C.C., on the 53-man roster. Brackins isn't ready for the NFL and has no grasp of the offense after missing time in training camp with a hamstring pull.

    "When we drafted him from Pearl River Junior College, we didn't think he would have our offense down there," GM Bruce Allen said. "He was behind, so when he got hurt ... the injuries put some of these guys far behind because they lost out on reps. But yeah, we're going to keep working with him."

  • LB Jeff Gooch was placed on injured reserve with a torn calf muscle, leaving the Bucs with five linebackers on the roster.

  • RB Michael Pittman could see time in the same backfield with Carnell Williams.

  • WR Joey Galloway is expected to handle the punt return duties this season.


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