Tampa Bay Buccaneers Team Capsule
What Went Right
Tampa’s rush game was amongst the most consistent in the NFL. The Bucs finished 11th in rushing yards per game, led by reserve Earnest Graham, who took over for the injured Cadillac Williams. Graham’s 898 yards rushing and ten scores provided improvement compared to Williams’ problems in his first four starts. Quarterback Jeff Garcia connected with leading receiver Joey Galloway, who yet again defied Father Time. Tampa’s defense returned as one of the league’s best units, limiting opponents to 16.9 points per game, good for third in the league.
What Went Wrong
When people look back on the 2007 season, the concept of rest versus playing hard should be remembered. The Giants chose to play hard down the stretch when they did not have to; that played a part in them winning the Super Bowl. Conversely, Tampa sat on its division lead, rested players and never got into a groove prior to the postseason. As a result, the Giants flattened the Bucs in the playoffs. Leading into the postseason, Tampa’s offense was hit or miss. While Graham ran well, ’05 first round pick Williams laboured to produce and suffered a season-ending torn patellar tendon injury after just four games. The passing game failed to pay to dividends as well, as Galloway had little help. While Ike Hilliard led the team with 62 receptions, the Bucs did not develop other solid pass catching options.
The Bucs added depth to their lineup with the acquisition of ex-Falcon running back Warrick Dunn, who was a Tampa fixture for five years prior to playing in Atlanta. Quarterback Brian Griese also returned to the team via trade from Chicago. Tampa addressed its defense by adding end Marques Douglas and former Patriots cornerback Eugene Wilson.
On the surface, a team that finished number one in pass defense last season selecting cornerback Aqib Talib seems a bit fishy. Yet, Ronde Barber is 33 and Phillip Buchanon is in the final year of his contract. Drafting an eventual predecessor is a wise move. The team used its second round pick on Appalachian State receiver Dexter Jackson, who should bring speed to a unit that desperately needs it. San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, taken in the sixth round, will be hard pressed to make the team with all of the competition at that spot.
State of the Team
Quarterbacks – Garcia is in the middle of a contract dispute and wants an extension. For a 38-year-old quarterback, his bargaining power is nil. Considering Jon Gruden’s history of working with quarterbacks, if Garcia left, Gru-dog would get over it quickly. Picking up Griese, who knows Gruden well, would soften the blow if Garcia decides to retire. As for Chris Simms, his days in Tampa could be numbered. Bruce Gradkowski was released, alleviating some of the mess behind Garcia. After leading Tampa to the NFC South division crown, Garcia is still the man, but don’t trust him to lead fantasy teams to glory.
Running Backs – Graham should start the season because of Williams’ injury. The Cadillac may be in the shop for a large majority of the ’08 season due to the severity of his injury. Buyer beware! Graham is reportedly looking for a new contract and sometimes that leads to messy situations. Fantasy owners should monitor that situation. The Bucs have depth at back though with Michael Bennett and the returning Dunn to help Graham stay fresh in what is his first year as a starting back. The offensive line’s strength is run blocking so Graham should be in store for a good season.
Wide Receivers – Outside of Galloway, the receiving group is amongst the worst in the league. Galloway accounted for six of the eight touchdowns caught by Tampa receivers. Eventually though, he will slow down. He cannot do it forever and is coming off shoulder surgery, although he’ll be ready to go for training camp. Hilliard led the team in receptions, but the Bucs would like to see Maurice Stovall and Michael Clayton wake up. Jackson joins this group to provide speed, but this gang needs a Ty Pennington-esque extreme makeover.
Tight Ends – When Jerramy Stevens isn’t busy dropping balls, he’s a serviceable tight end, but not one to rely upon. His off the field activities make him a less than desirable option (Stevens will serve a two game suspension to begin the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy) along with the rest of Tampa’s cornucopia of tight ends. Alex Smith, Ben Troupe and John Gilmore will also compete for time. For fantasy owners, the presence of all of these bodies is a clear sign to stay away from Bucs tight ends.
Defense/Special Teams – An aging, albeit effective defensive group returns in Tampa. The Bucs D should be solid again while the special teams did something for the first time in its history a season ago. Michael Spurlock returned a kick for a touchdown; however, don’t lean on this group for its special teams explosiveness. The power still lies with the defense.