Time to serve up the mid-season grades on our 4-4 Bucs.
So far this season, Jeff Garcia has been a potent weapon for this offense. His ability to scramble and keep plays alive, or just break off on a run, makes it tough to defend him. He went 7 games without an interception, and has shown that he can hit the deep ball, giving the Bucs a level of explosiveness not regularly seen here. He continues to be one of the highest rated passers in the league, and he's just starting to really get the offense. Just think about how good he'll be by the end of the season. McCown and Gradkowski have come in for very brief stints, and both have basically sucked, but I won't really hold there performances against the position.
Grade - A
Carnell Williams started out a little sluggish this season, but had moments where he was getting some good runs. Against the Panthers, he was starting to find a groove and rip off some big runs. Then he tore his patella tendon and he may never be the same. Then Pittman replaced him, only to get injured in the following game against the Colts. At least he'll be back soon. So now the Bucs have Graham and newcomer Bennett. Graham has performed quite well, showing he can both run the ball and catch it. Some of his runs have been displays of valiant effort, even Alstott like at times, always seeming to run guys over for a few more yards. Bennett appears to be a major home run threat that looks to be much more active in the second half. BJ Askew has performed the fullback role nicely, showing he can be a potent receiving weapon. So far this season, the backs have managed to be a factor for most games. Solid effort all around.
Grade - B+
The wide receiver spot has been mixed. Galloway has continued to be a threat, but he also continues to occasionally drop key passes. Hilliard has looked a lot more like the player the Giants drafted, than the quite back-up that has had a hard time justifying extra playing time. Clayton started off slow, but he appeared to be coming back until he got injured. He had been getting a pretty gaudy average per catch. Stovall didn't show enough to get on the field early this season, but then took advantage last week with Clayton out. He caught 5 passes, and appears to be another solid pick-up. Overall, this group has had it's up's and down's. Yet, they have been good enough to be open on a good number of passes, and have caught most, though not all.
Grade - C+
Smith has slowly become a target that Garcia looks for this season. His catches have tended to be those critical check down passes. He's managed to do some damage, but then got injured himself when his ankle was rolled up on. Stevens filled in well last week for Smith, and looks to be a potent weapon down the road as he seems to have a knack for getting open deep. Becht hasn't been utilized in the passing game much. Blocking continues to be his forte. This group, overall, has done some good things across the spectrum, and looks to continue to improve with Smith coming back and Stevens starting to get more acclimated to the team.
Grade - B-
At Left Tackle, the Bucs started the season with Petitgout, who played quite well in pass pro, and average in the running game. He was greatly responsible for Garcia having a lot of time to throw during the time he was in there. After his was injured Penn stepped in and has done nearly has good a job in pass pro, but seems to be slowly playing at a better level in the running game. Penn seems to have that meanness, and some serious pop at the point of attack. This could be one of the best undrafted FA finds the Bucs have ever had, but time will tell. Sears has manned the LG spot pretty much exclusively and has shown pretty good technique in pass pro. He had a hard time two weeks ago against Rodgers, but he played pretty well last week. His run blocking is solid, and he does have a tendency to really get into guys. Sear will still make mistakes at times, but that's expected from a rookie, and he looks like the real deal, and a long term solution at the LG spot. At Center, the Bucs have an experienced guy, Wade, who gets the line into the right calls on most occasions. Unfortunately, Wade is getting overpowered on a regular basis, and is becoming a liability for Sears and Joseph. When your Center struggles in the middle, the guards have a tendency to try and over compensate to keep the middle closed off, and that has caused some of the problems Sears and Joseph have shown. Speaking of Joseph, who's manned the RG spot all year, his play has been spotty at times. There are plays when he holds up quite well in pass pro, and plays where he just destroys his man on run plays. Then there are times when he becomes a swinging gate in pass pro or doesn't get good push off the line on runs. Daven's play hasn't been as consistent as the Bucs need, though his bad plays are only about 10-15% of all the plays he's in. And, as I mentioned, there are a number of plays where it looks like he tries to overcompensate for Wade getting beat. Trueblood, manning the RT spot, has probably been the most consistent lineman for the Bucs. While he still gives up an occasional head scratcher in pass pro, he's been dominate far more often than not. In run plays, he's consistently putting guys on the ground and has shown the ability to quickly make that block and get to the second level. Trueblood is looking like another definite long term solution at his spot and appears to have passed Joseph in progression. Overall, despite Wade's problems, the offensive line has been pretty solid all year. They've helped the Bucs average 106.9 yards/game on the ground at 4.2 per rush, a far cry over last year's pathetic rushing attack. They've also kept Garcia clean, for the most part, allowing just 12 sacks, and just 1 sack per 19.8 pass attempts. Garcia's scrambling ability has probably saved a few sacks from happening, but the pass protection is clearly much better than the last few years.
Grad - B+
Let's start with everybody's consensus bust, Gaines Adams...no...seriously, Adams currently is statistically one of the best ends out of the first round of this draft. He may not be racking up sacks, but he's gotten some pressure, and he's made a lot of tackles for a guy who's only playing roughly 30% of the snaps in games. With Spires injured, we'll likely see a lot more of him. So far he's much better against the run than Rice was, but not as effective against the pass. We'll see if his pass rush improves in the second half. Speaking of Spires, he's been relatively quite, though he does have quite a few tackles, but only one sack (less than Adams who is playing a lot less). Spires just looks like the tank is starting to run on fumes. Carter, despite being shuffled all over the place, is doing a little better with several more tackles and 2 sacks. He's not having quite the pass rushing impact the Bucs would like him to have, but he has racked up quite a few pressures, and has helped the defensive line slow down the running game. Hovan has quite a few tackles, but no sacks, and continues to draw constant double teams. He's doing enough to give the UT spot a lot of one-on-one match-ups. Unfortunately, the UT spot is still not taking full advantage of that. Haye, who is playing a lot at UT, has done a pretty good job getting the rush going, getting 4 sacks and leading the defensive line in tackles. Right now he's on pace for an 8 sack 72 tackle season, which are pretty good numbers for the UT spot. Greg White and Greg Peterson have both come in on spot duty and have managed to each rack up around a dozen tackles and 2 sacks. Thats the equivalent of having another linemen getting over 20 tackles and 4 sacks. Overall, the unit has been pretty strong against the run on most Sundays, but the pass rush hasn't been quite the dominating rush we are used to around here. They still need to pick it up some. It will be interesting to see if Adams, who will get a lot more playing time with Spires injured, will pick up this lines pass rush and start racking up some QB takedowns. I think the possibility is there, and some people may have to call off the "bust" label.
Grade - C+
Derrick Brooks has looked a lot more like his normal self than the guy who looked washed up last year. He's still missing some plays he would have made a couple of years ago, but he's generally looking quick to the ball and solid in tackling. He hasn't really racked up the picks, however, which is disappointing. Derrick used to be good for a few interceptions in a season. Derrick's tackle numbers put him tied for 5th place in the league, showing that he has, to some degree, returned to form. When Quarles was dumped to make way for Ruud, many were a little perturbed, thinking Ruud couldn't get it done based on some limited plays last year. Well, he's leading the lead in tackles, and has forced quite a few fumbles. His numbers are superior to Tatupu, who some were talking about regretting passing over for Ruud back after the Seattle game. Do you really want Tatupu (currently ranked 29th amongst LB's) over Ruud now? I don't. And it will be a shame if Barrett fails to make the Pro-Bowl this year. Cato June has quietly put up solid numbers this season as the Sam LB. He's not making as many splash plays has he typically does from the Will spot, but that's expected since our defense is designed to try to funnel the play toward the Will. He is, however, occasionally making a big key play in the games. As he continues to grow with this unit, I expect his numbers to increase. But, in reality, he's simply being kept in play until Derrick retires. Black was doing pretty good with Special Teams, but has gotten a little banged up. He really hasn't seen any significant time on defense. Nece has had some spot duty at the Mike, but not enough to really judge his play. Overall, though the LB's continue to have some problems with TE's at times, they are doing a pretty good job against the run and pass, and are one of the reasons why teams are having a hard time consistently moving the ball on us.
Grade - B+
Barber has continued to be a strong corner against the pass. He's so good that most teams aren't challenging him. The Titans tried that strategy and nearly gave him 2 picks. Buchannon has played quite well in Kelly's absence, making it difficult for teams to consistently attack the area of the field he covers. Although he gets burned on occasion, his ability to break on the ball has made it a very risky proposition. Kelly has been a little too limited to really gauge where he's at. Davis, however, has been picking up the time missed as the nickel corner. He's played OK, often making a play, but giving up some plays at time. Phillips has been strong at safety and has been a hitter when he's come up to tackle a running back. Phillips has turned into a head hunter and needs to continue to grow. Jackson, who is the rare rookie starter on this defense, has been playing exceptionally well most of the time. He's been able to come up and put some very vicious hits on some players (ask Dallas Clark if he can count to 10 yet). He looks very good back there, and seems to be finding ways to be in the right spot at the right time. Overall, this unit is the main reason why the pass defense is so good. Since the line can't consistently get pressure, the DB's must keep there coverages sound, and they are doing that far more often than not.
Grade - A-
Matt Bryant is hitting well into the 80's in accuracy percentage, and his getting some pretty good kickoffs. He's an asset now, and seems poised to give the Bucs the key field goal when needed. Bidwell continues to have another strong season. The punt coverage teams have been so-so, while the kick coverage unit has been exceptional for most of the season. The return game was strong with Mark Jones, but he's on IR now, and someone else needs to step up. The return units were exceptional on kickoffs with Jones back there. Everyone else seems to be struggling a little. Overall, the Special Teams units have been pretty solid for most of the year, though they have had a couple of games where they were a bit off, and it showed.
Grade - B
This team is just that, a TEAM. The unity in the locker room appears to be quite excellent, and that starts up top and trickles down. Gruden has managed to call some pretty good games this year, and seems open to input from Garcia when needed. Monte, on the other hand, has had a couple of games when he's played some very conservative defenses, and simply allowed opponents to move the ball almost at will. He needs to remain aggressive, however, since the defense seems to play much better with that aggressive style than they do with the passive. He also needs to do better with the in-game adjustments, something he used to be much better at than now. Bisaccia's Special Teams units have played very well for most of the season. Now if the unit can be tweaked further to make sure that the bouts of ineffectiveness go away, we could finish the season with one of the better units in the league.
Grade - B
And there you have it. Long and a little late, but here nonetheless. Overall I think the Bucs get a B- for the season so far and have the weakest part of their schedule coming up. Can't wait to see where they are at as the season wines down.