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Online Buccaneers Lines & Predictions - Tampa Bay Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Season Preview

2006 Bucs NFL News - August 24th, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By: Tony Moss For

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The stock of head coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was way down as 2005 began. The Bucs were coming off back-to-back losing seasons, and a dubious salary cap situation had hamstrung the organization

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in making significant improvements via free agency. The offensive line was a mess. The defense was said to be aging and on the decline. A rookie was going to be doing the running, a journeyman the passing. There was said to be dissension in the ranks, as not everyone was buying into Gruden's manner of doing business. On top of all that, the division was one of the best in football.

Somehow, in the midst of all the doubt, Gruden and Tampa Bay found themselves on top of the NFC South in '05, as everything that could go right simply did. The line played over its head, the defense showed no signs of slowing down, Cadillac Williams was the NFL's top rookie, and quarterback Chris Simms took over for the injured Brian Griese at mid-season and got the job done. Perhaps most significantly, the Bucs acted as a team on and off the field, with the divisive elements of the organization seemingly vanished in the wake of some consistent winning.

Last year's young and uncertain team has given way to one that appears stronger at its core, though again, a high-quality NFC South will be a major obstacle standing between the Bucs and a postseason return.

Can Gruden keep the Bucs' stock soaring in '06? There are again doubts about the team's prospects, though the buyers on NFL's version of Wall Street appear to this year be in much larger supply than the sellers.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 11-5 (t1st, NFC South)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2005, lost to Washington, 17-10 in NFC Wild Card

COACH (RECORD): Jon Gruden (35-29 in four seasons with Buccaneers, 73-55 overall)



OFFENSIVE STAR: Cadillac Williams, RB (1178 rushing yards, 6 TD, 20 receptions)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Derrick Brooks, LB (125 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 14th rushing, 25th passing, 20th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 6th rushing, 6th passing, 8th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at Atlanta (9/17), Carolina (9/24), at New Orleans (10/8), at Carolina (11/13), Atlanta (12/10)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Jay Fiedler (from Jets), QB Bruce Gradkowski (6th Round, Toledo), WR David Boston (from Dolphins), WR Maurice Stovall (3rd Round, Notre Dame), G Toniu Fonoti (from Vikings), G Davin Joseph (1st Round, Oklahoma),T Torrin Tucker (from Cowboys), T Jeremy Trueblood (2nd Round, Boston College), LB Jamie Winborn (from Jaguars)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Brian Griese (released), FB Jameel Cook (to Texans), TE Will Heller (not tendered), G Matt Stinchcomb (released), T Todd Steussie (to Rams), LB Jeff Gooch (released), S Dexter Jackson (to Bengals), K Billy Cundiff (released)

QB: The spotlight will shine brightly on Buccaneers QB Chris Simms (2035 passing yards, 10 TD, 7 INT) this season, as Simms becomes the team's unquestioned starting QB for the first time in his four years as a pro. Simms played generally well in 10 starts last season, posting a 81.4 passer rating and leading Tampa Bay to the playoffs, but will be looked to for more consistency in 2006. The depth chart behind Simms is in question. Would-be backup Luke McCown (knee) could miss the entire season, and former Dolphins starter Jay Fiedler (107 passing yards, 1 TD with the Jets), whom the team took a flier on in the preseason, might not be ready for the start of the season due to lingering shoulder problems. That situation opened the door for rookie Bruce Gradkowski (6th Round, Toledo), who outplayed veteran Tim Rattay (667 passing yards, 5 TD, 6 INT with the 49ers) early in the preseason and could end up as the team's top QB reserve.

RB: A major component in the Buccaneers' 2005 improvement was the presence of running back Cadillac Williams (1178 rushing yards, 6 TD, 20 receptions), who became Tampa Bay's first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 2000 and was in turn named NFL Rookie of the Year. The versatile Williams will again be a focal point of the Buccaneer offense. Michael Pittman (436 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 2 TD) was a good change-of-pace, averaging 6.2 yards per rush and serving as an effective receiver in third-down situations. Also expected back is third-stringer Earnest Graham (83 rushing yards), who played in all 16 games last season and is valuable on special teams. The fullback depth chart is crowded, as veteran and fan favorite Mike Alstott (80 rushing yards, 25 receptions, 7 TD), 2005 seventh-round draft pick Rick Razzano, and ex-Jet Jerald Sowell (28 receptions, 3 TD), were all competing for jobs. Razzano, who missed most of 2005 after serving a steroid-related suspension, could be on the outside looking in.

WR/TE: One of the most surprising elements of Tampa Bay's playoff run was the play of No. 1 wideout Joey Galloway (83 receptions, 10 TD), who managed to appear in all 16 games for the first time since 2002, also posting career- highs in both catches and receiving yards at the age of 34. Galloway's success helped overshadow the sophomore slump of No. 2 receiver Michael Clayton (32 receptions), who started just 10 games due to injury after an 80-catch rookie season. Clayton will be looked to for improvement, and if he fails to deliver, journeyman David Boston (4 receptions with the Dolphins) could be waiting in the wings. Boston, who has struggled with injury and off-the-field problems since a 98-catch season with Arizona in 2001, is only 28 and looked good early in the preseason. Holdovers Ike Hilliard (35 receptions, 1 TD) and Edell Shepherd (6 receptions, 1 TD) also have experience, but could be subject to the chopping block if young players like Maurice Stovall (3rd Round, Notre Dame), Paris Warren, J.R. Russell, and Chas Gessner finish the preseason in a strong fashion. The 6-4, 216-pound Stovall could also be used as a tight end, where he would have to beat out holdovers Alex Smith (41 receptions, 2 TD), Anthony Becht (16 receptions), and Dave Moore (1 reception) for playing time. Seventh-round draft pick Tim Massaquoi (Michigan) appears headed for the practice squad.

OL: A young Tampa Bay offensive line defied the odds and held up well in 2005, but the fact that the team used its first two 2006 draft picks on line help is an indication that Gruden is seeking more consistency there. Davin Joseph (1st round, Oklahoma) and Jeremy Trueblood (2nd Round, Boston College) are immediately in the discussion to start at right guard and right tackle, respectively, while a free agent acquisition, Torrin Tucker (10 starts with the Cowboys) was making a bid to unseat Anthony Davis at left tackle in the preseason. If Joseph can beat out incumbent Sean Mahan at right guard, Mahan has a shot to take over incumbent John Wade's job at center. Just for good measure, there is also a competition taking place at left guard, where incumbent Dan Buenning is being challenged by newcomer and one-time Chargers starter Toniu Fonoti. Jeb Terry played in 16 games as a reserve a year ago and will stick around to add depth. The inconsistent Kenyatta Walker has started 70 games as a Buc, but will also be a backup if Trueblood comes through in the preseason.

DL: The Buccaneers were apparently happy with their rotation along the front four, since no major changes were made in this area in the offseason. The mercurial Simeon Rice (40 tackles, 14 sacks) and reliable Greg Spires (47 tackles, 4 sacks) return at left and right end, respectively, with Chris Hovan (45 tackles) and Anthony McFarland (27 tackles, 2 sacks) back to man the interior. Dewayne White (35 tackles, 3 sacks) will be a situational pass rusher, replacing Spires in appropriate situations, while Ellis Wyms (17 tackles, 2 sacks) is versatile enough to play either tackle or end. Elsewhere on the backup front, rookie ends Julian Jenkins (5th round, Stanford) and Charles Bennett (7th Round, Clemson) will try to get on the field as special- teamers, and the Bucs also like pass rusher Andrew Williams.

LB: Many NFL observers are waiting for the 33-year-old Derrick Brooks (125 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT) and soon-to-be-35-year-old Shelton Quarles (129 tackles, 1 sack) to finally hit the wall, but until they do, Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will see no reason to keep them off the field. Brooks and Quarles were both effective from their respective spots on the weak side and in the middle last season, and will be in the starting lineup until further notice. On the strong side, Ryan Nece (76 tackles, 2 sacks) is the incumbent, but Marquis Cooper (18 tackles) could push him for time. Jamie Winborn, the former 49ers starter who played in seven games with San Francisco and Jacksonville last season, is an insurance policy for Brooks on the weak side. Barrett Ruud (17 tackles), a second-round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2005, serves in the same capacity for Quarles in the middle.

DB: There are few changes here, as cornerbacks Ronde Barber (99 tackles, 5 INT, 2 sacks) and Brian Kelly (50 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack) return to their starting positions along with free safety Will Allen (48 tackles, 3 INT) and strong safety Jermaine Phillips (61 tackles). If Allen is slow to return from a broken thumb that limited him in the preseason, either holdover Kalvin Pearson (29 tackles) or converted corner Blue Adams (14 tackles) would step in. Juran Bolden (42 tackles, 2 INT) is the team's nickel corner, and will add secondary depth along with Torrie Cox (10 tackles), Donte Nicholson (5 tackles), and perhaps draft picks Alan Zemaitis (4th Round, Penn State) and Justin Phinisee (7th Round, Oregon).

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bucs are set in the kicking game, as Matt Bryant (21-25 FG) is back to handle placements and Josh Bidwell (45.6 avg.) is back to handle the punting. Mark Jones (9.6 avg.) was solid on punt returns last season, but the team's crowded receiving picture could make him expendable. The Buccaneers have still never returned a kickoff for a score in their franchise history, and could use Michael Pittman (28.3 avg.) there in an effort to change that. Dave Moore is rarely used as a tight end any more, but the 15-year veteran remains valuable as a long-snapper.

PROGNOSIS: Jon Gruden did one of the NFL's great coaching jobs in 2005, taking a team that was scarcely expected to flirt with .500 and leading it to a NFC South title. Continuing that level of success will be difficult in 2006. The division is better, for starters, with the Panthers and Falcons looking like two of the stronger teams in the NFC and the Saints having added Drew Brees and Reggie Bush to the roster. Also, Tampa Bay won't sneak up on anyone with its play, as opponents will be ready for the reigning division champs every week. From a personnel standpoint, there are issues, particularly on the still-fluid offensive line, within a crowded receiving picture, and on an aging defense. Simms' play will bear watching, but even if he proves himself to be a bona fide NFL starter, the Bucs will need a lot to go right around him in order to make a repeat postseason appearance.

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