Bucs Pose Good Early Test

The Tampa Bay Bucs come into the Metrodome Sunday looking to erase the memory of a lost season in 2004, in which an 0-4 start buried the Bucs before they had a chance to come together as a team.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers team the Vikings face Sunday bears little resemblance to the team that marched to a Super Bowl title three years ago, but as both teams open the 2005 season, the Bucs are looking for a return to glory at the expense of the Vikings.

Coach Jon Gruden has overhauled the team in his own image, trying to bring the Raiders style of offense to Tampa. Those changes begin at quarterback, where Brian Griese has been handed the reigns of the offense and told to bring the same success to the Bucs that Rich Gannon brought to the Raiders. The maturation of Griese in the Bucs offense was apparent last year. He quietly produced 20 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards in a little over 10 games last season – approximately the same yardage and TD numbers that Gannon posted while leading the Raiders.

The biggest difference offensively from last year's team is that the running game is likely going to get turned over to rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, a player Gruden and the coaching staff fell in love with during Senior Bowl week when they coached Williams as one of the top college all-stars. The love never waned and the Bucs used the fifth overall selection in this year's draft to grab him. While the team can still expect production from veterans Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott, Williams is going to be given every opportunity to win the role as the go-to running back.

The receiver corps has been a position in transition ever since Gruden showed up. When he arrived, Keyshawn Johnson was the team's primary receiver, but he and Gruden butted heads and Johnson was dismissed from the team and later traded. That allowed Keenan McCardell to step into the go-to role, but, he held out to start last season and was eventually traded to San Diego. In their absence, 2004 rookie sensation Michael Clayton burst on the scene and finished the year as the only Buccaneer with at least one reception in every game – catching 80 passes for 1,200 yards and seven TDs. He is balanced with speedy veteran Joey Galloway and former Giants possession receiver Ike Hilliard. Beyond those three depth is thin, so keeping them healthy and productive will be a priority. Tight end is also a position that has been overhauled, with the signing of former Jet Anthony Becht in free agency and the drafting of Alex Smith in the third round of April's draft.

Both the offensive and defensive lines have added former Vikings to the mix in hopes of turning around both units – which struggled badly at times last year. Todd Steussie was brought in to back up second-year man Anthony Davis, or to take over for spells if Davis is overwhelmed. On the defensive side, Chris Hovan has received rave reviews for his performance during training camp and he will be given the nose tackle position. With Booger McFarland and DEs Simeon Rice and Greg Spires flanking Hovan, the Bucs can still do an adequate job of stuffing the run and pressuring the passer, but the once-vaunted Bucs defense doesn't have the fear factor that the Bucs of old did.

This isn't to say that the Bucs don't have star power on the defensive side of the ball. They still have big-time playmakers in LB Derrick Brooks, CBs Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly and safety Dexter Jackson, but the days of the impenetrable Bucs defense appear to be over. Last year the Bucs allowed 28 or more points in five games, losing four of them.

The Vikings' primary objective is going to be to attack the Bucs defense at its weakest points, get everyone involved to keep Gruden and his coaches off-balance and make sure defensively to keep Cadillac in park as much as possible. To the extent the Vikings can achieve those three goals will go a long way to starting the season off with a win. Considering the home team has won the last nine games in the head-to-head series, playing at the Metrodome could provide the 12th-man advantage the Vikings need.

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