2008 Bucs' Schedule: PNG

Monday, November 27, 2006

Late Season Review (It's Long!)

This is a late season look at the Bucs, with the intent of pointing out what is clearly right and wrong with this team, and what needs to be done going forward. With the team 3-8 as of this writing, it’s clear that the Bucs’ season is effectively over. Now it’s all about pride and draft position. The Bucs appear to be set to draft in the top 10 this off-season, which will help the Bucs continue to recover from the lost picks from the Keyshawn, Kenyatta, and Gruden deals.

Let me break down each of the three main areas of the team individually, as they clearly must be treated as such.


On offense the Bucs appear to have finally built up some talent on the offensive line, assuming Buenning, who has now been placed on IR, will be back to full strength next season. The only really weak area is at Center. Davis has really grown at the LT spot and can continue to be solid there, and Trueblood looks to be a real keeper at RT. Joseph is a stud at RG, and Buenning will continue to be a stud at LG, assuming he’s back 100% in ’07. Wade is OK, but an upgrade would be nice, and can likely be had with a mid-round selection, or in FA. So the line isn’t really a problem anymore. Yes, they are young and make mistakes, but they are playing very well in all facets of the game, and will continue to get better.

The skill positions appear to be pretty solid as well. Galloway looks to be fast enough to last at least 2 or 3 more seasons. Clayton has been pretty solid, though he’s still dropping more passes than he should. And Stovall will probably get a shot to be the third wideout or to push Clayton down a notch. The tight ends are solid with Smith and Becht. Jolley may or may not add to that depth as he really gets back into shape and practices with this team during the off-season. The running back position is in very good hands, as Caddy has started to come on, even running well against solid run defenses, such as the 4.6 yard average he racked up against the Cowboys strong run defense. Pittman is still a good receiving back and solid back-up. Sowell looks to be a very good traditional FB. Alstott is probably playing his last season, though you never know.

The one question mark really left on offense is at Quarterback. Will Gradkowski be the long-term guy? Or will Simms be back? Or will some other QB be brought in through FA or the draft? This is the one position that must be taken care of going into next season. If Bruce is the guy, then they need to work hard to make him the QB they need. If not, they need to get the right guy in here. Gruden’s offense is very reliant on the QB play, and that’s the key to seeing this offense become explosive. The plays have been there, but the throws often have not. Until that’s resolved, the offense will muddle around in the lower half of the league. But once the QB play becomes average or better, the offense has the firepower to be in the top third of the league. Offensive draft picks should be rare this year, as offense is just not a big need area.


Let’s be honest here…the defense we know and love has gone bye-bye. The lack of a top tier defense is the single biggest reason why this team is in the toilet. Knowing that fact, the defense needs to be fixed at all costs, and with Bucs likely to have at least 4 picks in the first 70-75 draft selections, as well as around $25-28 million in cap space for free agents, this is the year to rebuild it. Normally a rebuild project of this magnitude would be a multi-year thing, but the Bucs have ridden the defense for all it’s worth while using the last 3 drafts to really fix the offense. With that apparently accomplished, the Bucs can focus almost exclusively on defense this off-season.

There are 4 things that make this defense work when it’s humming: 1) disruptive Under Tackle play, 2) sideline-to-sideline Weakside Linebacker play, 3) physical Cornerback play, and 4) playmaking Safties in run and pass support. Let me address each.

The UT spot is the lynch pin to the play of the defensive line. As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the removal of McFarland has led to slightly better pass rushing, and superior run stopping from the defensive line. This is with Wyms sidelined with injuries and former practice squad guys starting in his place. If the Bucs can find or draft someone that can play at or near the level that Sapp did during his younger years, then the rest of the defensive line will morph into a much better pass rushing line. Hovan is getting more pressure on the QB because of better play next to him. If Rice was 100% healthy, we would probably have a very strong pass rush right now. White is solid, but Spires’ play is lackluster now. While the Bucs need to get some better talent at DE for the future, the UT is the key player on the line. Once that’s fixed, it will make it easier on the back 7 to defend passes.

The Weakside Linebacker spot has been manned by one of the best ever, Derrick Brooks, but he’s not getting the job done like he used to. The key to the WLB spot in the Tamp 2 is speed. The Will has to be able to cover a large area of the field, and that can’t be done without the kind of sideline-to-sideline speed we’ve seen from Derrick over the years. In my opinion, and apparently some others, Derrick should be slid over to the Strongside (Sam) replacing Nece, who is likely to never be better than average. Then they can put Winborn in at the Will and see if he can play it with the speed we need, and with enough instincts to make this position go again. Derrick would be outstanding at the Sam, because it doesn’t need the speed, just solid instincts and tackling, both of which Brooks is likely to maintain for at least a few more years, should he choose to stay that long. Ruud is already showing himself to be a very good MLB, and will only get better. Finding out if Winborn is the future at the Will is key, because if he isn’t then someone needs to be brought in or drafted. Lance Briggs may be one of the first FA targets of the Bucs. They have the cash to throw at him, only, he would have to change his number if Brooks is still here.

Physical corner play is pretty much intact when Kelly isn’t injured. With Zemaitis on the roster, his replacement/back-up is there. Getting Bolden back to Nickel would be big, as Bolden has become pretty solid starting, but would be much better at the Nickel, and would make it tough for teams to pass or run against our corners. The Bucs need to look at drafting to replacing Barber who is not making plays as often as he used to. I wouldn’t be surprised if Barber retired within the next two years, so getting a replacement in here should be on the list of needs this off-season. Overall, the corners aren’t a huge need if Kelly can comeback healthy next year and stay that way, but future starters would be nice to pick up. If an upgrade can be found in FA, then the Bucs should go for it, as well.

Now we get to the real trouble spot. It’s bad enough to have the other 3 areas not playing the way the Bucs need them. So far this season, the play at Will and at the Corners has been good enough, though not great. Without the pressure up front, however, the Safeties become exposed. And once that happens, you find out just how good, or bad, they are. In our case, as we’ve seen, the Safety play has been atrocious. There is simply no other way to say it. They stink. Allen and Phillips need to be replaced. The Bucs need to look high and low to find themselves 2 starting safeties and a solid back-up or two. Last year we saw that, with Dexter Jackson playing it was harder for teams to beat us deep. But we were still vulnerable because either Allen or Phillips was playing with him. Get two solid safeties back there and this defense will suddenly be tough to pass on. If the Bucs are can only fix two things on this defense, the Safeties and the UT spot are the one’s they must address first. Fixing those two areas would turn this defense back into a top 10 defense immediately.

Ultimately, with all the cash and draft picks, the Bucs should address every need this off-season and get this defense turned around.

Special Teams:

If the Bucs needed to really address any areas on this unit, it would be the returners and the kicker. The punter is safe, and the rest of the group is good enough. The Bucs should really look at trying to find a guy that can return kicks and punts and do so with the best in the league. They might be able to find a guy in FA, or they could draft a guy in the later rounds to attempt to do just that. But spending too much time, money, or draft picks would be unwise, as we are getting good play here as it is.

The field goal kicker, however, is one where the Bucs may want to upgrade. It’s tough to be certain, however, has Bryant has been hitting the kicks of late, and may have simply had an early season slump. Overall, though, Special Teams doesn’t look to be a need, or even a priority, this off-season. Fix the defense, and this team can return to the play-off’s next year, assuming the QB play is improved on offense.

So, to close this lengthy post out, the defense is where the Bucs must spend their assets this off-season. Get a pass rusher or two, a top notch UT, find Brooks’ replacement, get some more corners, but, for the love of God, get some friggin’ Safeties!! While this season has been a great disappointment, it may have come at just the right time to give the Bucs a lot of top picks just when they needed them most, combined with the money to get some top tier FA’s to help as well. These two things will make this off-season one of the more memorable one’s in years.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Embarrassing; Bucs Lose 38-10

Going into this game, I expected the Bucs to make a showing, but lose the game in the end. The one thing I didn't want to see, along with many others, would be an embarrassing display of football. Well, the Bucs were physically on the field, but I'm not sure I can say that they played. That was not fun to watch once the Bucs gave up the lead. From the point of Bruce's first pick, it was all down hill. This is not going to be fun watching the last 5 games. What will be fun, however, is watching them retool that defense through Free Agency and the draft. The Bucs are going to be players, and they will likely do everything they can to fix the two most critical areas on the team: defensive line pressure and safety play. Now it's all about slotting. We'll see the young guys continue to play and see if Bruce can sew up the job at QB or not. Caddy looks to have finally shaken off the rust, and managed to get going pretty well of late, but it doesn't matter much when your defense has become a deep ball sieve.

I will say this, I haven't seen much progression from Gradkowski. He seems to have plateaued. That's not a good thing. If we don't see some improvement during the last 5 games, I think Gruden is going to seriously have to consider addressing the QB position again, and that's not a good thing. I think the Bucs may actually consider bringing Simms back if they don't get more out of Bruce late. Why? Simple. Even though Simms started this season poorly (the offensive line and Caddy being banged up from the start didn't help him) he did play well late against the Panthers, and we've seen him play much better during most of the games he played last year then what we've seen so far out of Bruce. There are a lot of great qualities in Bruce's play, but he's just not making the big play throws that are needed to win games. He gets close, but then fails to get over that hump. Maybe he'll pick that up in the last 5 games. It would certainly help this team for the long term. If he doesn't I would expect Simms to be back as competition, and I would also expect Gruden to go after a vet he thinks can run the system for a couple of years while he grooms the right QB. To be honest, don't be shocked if the Bucs don't try and work a deal for Favre. I don't personally thinks it's the best route for the team, but those rumors that went around earlier this season are pretty hard to ignore.

Well, I'll be headed back to Florida tomorrow and won't be in until late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. So don't expect another update for a couple of days.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Talking Plank - Week 12 (Small Edition)

The Talking Plank - Week 12: At Dallas

The Bucs are coming fresh off a victory against the Redskins, who were also banged up. The Bucs offense looked to make some key advances in the play of younger players, with Gradkowski having a solid game, but having some drops and misses that could have had the Bucs up big in the first half. The defense also played well against a banged up offense, but continued to struggle with stopping deep passes. With not much more than pride left to play for, what can we expect this week?

On Offense, look for the Bucs to try to hit the Cowboys deep early and soften up the front 7. Dallas runs a 3-4 defense, something the Bucs have, at times, struggled against lately. The Bucs offense, is one whose inherent design can regularly beat 3-4's, but you need a veteran QB, or a rookie that happens to be in the zone on that day. The Bucs will need to be able to find a way to soften Dallas up and get the running game going, something that will be very tough, but very necessary. If they can't it will be a long day. I expect mixed results on offense. They'll have some opportunities, however. If they cash in it will be a good day. If not, it's going to likely be a tough game to stomach.

On Defense, the Bucs will be facing a rookie QB for the second straight week. They'll need to stop Jones and Barber running the ball, or they will be in deep trouble. What really has me concerned is our secondary against T.O. and Terry Glenn. I don't like the match-ups for our defense, not while it's in this condition. If Bolden doesn't play, it could get ugly unless Zemaitis turns into a real winner at corner. I expect the Cowboys to be able to light it up against our secondary, and that could cost us the game.

On Special Teams, the Bucs will have some chances in punt returns, and should be able to cover the Cowboys' punt and kick return teams quite well. What we'll get out of the Bucs' kick return team is likely what we've seen all year: solid, but not spectacular. The teams are pretty much in the same but with field goals, so it's hard to say who'll have the better day here, but I think Bryant has finally gotten back into the groove and could help us out.

Overall, I think the Bucs have a shot at beating the Cowboys, simply because they've been able to handle the NFC East teams pretty well. They had some chances against the Giants that were missed, which could have led to big play TD's and a possible win. Against the Skins and Eagles, the Bucs won. However, the Cowboys are on a roll, and look pretty strong. The Bucs might win, but the good money is on the Cowboys by a sizable margin.

Cowboys 27 Bucs 17

RIce Out; Bring On The Kids

With the Bucs continuing to get banged up on defense, they will have to start seeking the help of the younger players more and more as the season continues. Rice's injury was so problematic that the Bucs had him placed on IR and he will now likely undergo surgery to fix his shoulder. He joins Kelly, which makes for a rapidly thinning defense. With Quarles and Bolden questionable, and Wyms still doubtful, the younger players need to step up and help this defense play well down the stretch so the Bucs can avoid being embarrassed, especially tomorrow on national television.

The Bucs will likely have Zemaitis active as well, which could be interesting to see, especially if the Bucs decide to throw him out there and find out how far along he is. The Bucs really need Zemaitis to learn this defense as soon as possible, as it' been killing the Bucs whenever Kelly gets injured. The Bucs need good depth next season at the corner spot if they want to be able to maintain a strong defense going forward.

Ruud continues to get a lot of playing time, and the transition has been, in my mind, nearly seamless. His play is only slightly below Quarles' level, and I think Quarles may not be the starter next season. The Bucs are also getting good work out of a multitude of defensive linemen, including White, Jenkins, Bradley, and Haye. All are getting action and valuable playing time. If Rice comes back fully healthy next year, I think you'll see White supplant Spires, while the Bucs also look to either FA or the draft to bring in another top notch DE. Of course, the key spot they need to upgrade is UT where they need to get someone who can play at least in Sapp's ballpark, as opposed to what we saw out of McFarland. Wyms was looking to be a solid player, and an upgrade, but they need someone else who can take over games from time to time.

With the Bucs 3-7 and likely going nowhere, all we have worth watching is to see the young guys play and get better, while hoping we can win some games and not get embarrassed.

Lack Of Updates

Here I am again talking about my lack of updates. The last month hasn't been very kind to me from a time standpoint, and it doesn't help with the Bucs having such a bad season. Needless to say, 2006 has been disappointing in many ways. Right now I'm blogging from West Virginia, just south of Elkins. I'm hopping to get a few blog posts in during the next couple of days, then I'll be heading back to Tampa on Saturday. Things should return to normal next week and I should be able to really start blogging more frequently, even though the team isn't doing well enough to really give me that extra motivation.

I'm still hoping to put up the mid-season look, even though we are a game past that. Talking Planks may remain intermittent, as we are about to go into the building stage of our house, and that may pull some of my time away, but I'll try to keep up. Now for some real posts!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bucs Lose 14-31

Well, that wasn't pretty. I think I'll save a lot of my comments for my mid-season review that I'll have up late in the week. I've got the kid by myself with the wife out of town, so my time is a little limited.

Needless to say, however, that the safeties should be taken to the woodshed and beaten to a pulp. Then Cox needs to have his hands dipped in tar so he can actually start to catch some of those picks that hit him in the chest. And could somebody please smack Gradkowski upside the head for me? I mean really...what good is it to have a coach with outstanding plays, call a perfect 4th down play that gets Clayton so wide open that he could have dashed 30 yards for a TD and probably not get touched, only to see your QB decide to throw the ball, with a little juice, over Clayton's head by about 3 feet. *SMACK!!* Ahhh....I feel a little better now.

This year is going down the John C. Crapper faster than a NHRA hotrod going down the quarter mile strip. Bruce's numbers keep getting worse. What's maddening is that the same QB that failed to simply loft that 4th down pass, is the same one that nailed a long pass to Galloway, between two defenders, in the perfect spot for a TD. UGH! Well, it looks like we are going to have to fight hard to fend off the Raiders and Browns for that number 1 draft pick. We can do it!!

More to come...later in the week.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Talking Plank - Week 9

The Talking Plank - Week 9: Vs. New Orleans

The Bucs are on life support. Having lost last week, they now need to put together a 3 game, or better, win streak just to keep hope alive. The Saints come in of a tough loss. Which team wants this win more?

On Offense, the Bucs had some good success against the Saints the last time they played them. This go around, the Bucs will be looking to finish the game out on a high note. The Bucs nearly pulled off the win against the Saints, but a late punt return and a penalty on Galloway all worked to prevent the win. This time around, with Bruce getting his first chance to see the same team twice, it should give him the leg up on moving the ball more consistently. I think this will be Bruce's break-out game. He's due, and this would be the best situation for him to do it. I also expect to see a heavy dose of the running game. Caddy should be able to run the ball effectively against the Saints. The Bucs will likely take advantage of the secondary, much like last game. Keeping Grant and Smith off of Gradkowski will be the key. The Bucs offensive line must hold up in pass pro. I look for a big game from the offense.

On Defense, we saw the real Bucs' defense last week, and I expect more of the same this week. McAllister had his way with the Bucs the last time, but that was when the Bucs' defense was at it's worse, takcle wise. I expect the defense to fly to the ball like last week, and to keep it up. The Bucs failed to pick or sack Brees last time. Expect a change to happen there, especially since we have a new UT that's actually making plays. Of course, if the early season defense shows up, it could get ugly. Horn may be on the bench as he's running around with a groin injury. Conwell is out, which helps us a lot. Should be interesting to see if our defense can continue to play top notch, like last week. I think they will hold the Saints offense down.

In Special Team, the units are roughly even, though Bush returned a fateful punt against us. If we stop that, we should be OK in this area. I don't expect anything major, but if we can't get good field position, it could hurt us. I think this unit will continue to do well.

Overall, I think the Bucs match up well with the Saints and will bring it, as they know they need to win for any hope to remain alive. That, and a break out game for Bruce, will give the Saints a loss, and the Bucs a win.

Bucs 20 Saints 17

Friday, November 03, 2006

Simms on IR

Well, Luke McCown was reactivated to the roster, which meant Simms was placed on IR. Whether or not he'll play as a Buc again is up in the air. For now it's Bruce or bust. Let's hope Bruce can stay healthy and continue to rapidly assimilate this offense. The sooner, the better.

The weather will be quite nice for this game, and it's unlikely that swirling winds will be affecting the passing game. Let's hope that the Bucs can hit a deep ball or two and get the defense to pull back off the line some so Caddy can run. We need this win badly. A win, and we're still on life support. A loss, and they pull the plug.