2008 Bucs' Schedule: PNG

Friday, September 05, 2008

Position Review (Live from Tyler, TX!)

With my recent travels, I’m finding it hard to find time to write everything I want, but it starts with a review of the current state of the team, followed by my season predictions, and, finally, The Talking Plank for the opening game at the Saints.

So let’s start by briefly reviewing the talent and capabilities of each position, starting on offense.

Offense –

Quarterbacks: At the QB position, the Bucs will field perhaps the league’s deepest unit at this critical position. Jeff Garcia will start the season as the starter with questions about his arm strength and the decision making in his only preseason game. If he’s up to par, though, he’ll have the time to get the ball out and the talent to take advantage of those passes. If not, then either Griese or McCown can come in and play well enough to win. If Garcia gets injured, both back-ups can do the job. Griese is a solid QB with the ability to win games, but also a penchant to occasionally cough up the ball at the worst time. McCown is starting to overcome his lack of speed in decision making, and is clearly the most gifted QB on the roster, save maybe Josh Johnson who will be redshirting this season. Overall grade: A-

Offensive Line: No doubt about it, even with Davin Joseph starting the season on the injury list, and likely out for the first 3 or 4 games, the Bucs have probably the best Offensive Line they have ever fielded, and one of the deeper units, though they just traded Buenning and brought back Mahan, a decision I’m not that thrilled with. Nonetheless, Faine will be a rock in the Center position with Sears and Penn playing very well to the left and Zuttah/Joseph and Trueblood playing very well to the right. This line will move most defensive lines and be able to keep the QB relatively clean. The running backs will continue to have big holes to run through and that unit has the talent to take advantage of it. This unit will make or break this offense, and so far this preseason, this line has gotten it done. Overall grade: A

Running Backs: In my mind there is little doubt that the Bucs have the most talented group of running backs in the league. There may be teams with a single back that is better than any of these backs, but all of them are 1000 yard rushers (with the assumption Graham would have if he had started a couple more games). Dunn and Bennnet are both electric backs capable of shifting and hitting the hole quick, hitting the home run, and being excellent pass receivers. Graham is the power back that consistently gets positive yardage. Williams, who will likely be available after his 6 week stint on the PUP, is one of the better backs in the league when healthy. The Bucs also have an outstanding Fullback in BJ Askew, and a solid up and coming guy in Byron Storer. Overall grade: A-

Wide Receivers: This unit is the most maligned unit on this team and may or may not be improved over last season. How well Galloway can play is up in the air, seeing as he was unable to play during the preseason. Clayton looked good this preseason, but had a mild chest injury, which makes one wonder if he can get through a season without a major injury. Bryant has shown the talent, but his knee needed some rest. Hilliard was ineffective down the stretch when age appeared to catch up to him. Stovall keeps showing promise, but needs to carry it over to the regular season. If Galloway, Clayton, Bryant, and Stovall can stay healthy and play up to their ability, this unit could actually be one of the stronger units in the league. That’s a big “if”, though. I’m cautiously optimistic, but need to see it happen. Overall grade: C+

Tight Ends: The Bucs will also be featuring one of the better, deeper TE units in the league. Alex Smith continues to be very solid in all phases of the game, though he still has the occasional big dropped pass. John Gilmore has turned out to be a big upgrade over Anthony Becht by being able to run block a little better, while being a significantly better pass receiver. Ben Troupe brings a highly athletic package to the TE group, capable of being an excellent receiver (see the Houston game). He’s still working on the run blocking part, but has the physical tools to do the job. Jerramy Stevens, despite his past, is a mismatch against most defenders in the receiving game and is working to become a solid run blocker, much as Troupe is, but will start the season suspended for the first two games. This unit is deep and talented, though a better pass receiving group. Overall grade: B+

Offensive Summary: So far this preseason we have seen an offense that has basically moved the ball at will most of the time, though more so though small chunks. This group consistently converted over 50% of third downs (a far cry over last year’s group), and has been able to run the ball with authority, often times taking advantage of huge holes created by the OL, and time given for the QB to pass the ball in pass pro. This offense will move the ball a lot and score some points, while taking some pressure off the defense by scoring points and eating up the clock with that potent running game. By the end of the season, this unit should rank in the top 15 on offense, maybe even the top 10, but it needs some other receivers to step up and help make the big plays to take this offense over the top.

Defense –

Defensive Line: This unit is starting to shape into a strong run stuffing unit capable of a solid pass rush. While not the dominate pass rushing unit the Bucs have been used to, this group has been getting more and more pressure on opposing QB’s and looks poised to be able to improve on last year’s sack totals by 5-8 sacks. It will be interesting to see the impact to the pass rush with Haye back, but Sims has been doing well, and Hovan seems to be getting more and more pressure these days. Jimmy Wilkerson has been a big surprise and should help Gaines Adams, Greg White, and Kevin Carter rack up some sacks from the ends. This unit will make it very difficult for opposing teams to run the ball and force teams to throw into the teeth of one of the league’s best secondaries. Overall grade: A-

Linebackers: Without a doubt, the Bucs have a deep and talented corps of linebackers, all of whom have speed and athleticism, as well as brains to direct that talent. Brooks comes back for another year and looks to improve on last year’s performance as his Hall of Fame career gets close to the end. Cato June and Barrett Ruud compliment Brooks and help the Bucs field one of the best starting groups. Black, Hayward, and McCoy could easily all start and the Bucs wouldn’t lose a whole lot out of that group. This unit has been rock solid in the preseason and will likely continue that trend in the regular season. Overall grade: A-

Defensive Backs: The fielded one of the best secondaries in the league last year and look to field an even better group this year. Ronde Barber continues to excel and Phillip Buchannon continues to play better and better. Aquib Talib appears to be a shutdown corner capable of being better than Brian Kelly ever was, but needs to prove he can do that consistently. Elbert Mack played extremely well and pushed Eugene Wilson off the roster. Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson lead the safeties with Sabby Piscatelli pushing Phillips for playing time, and Will Allen providing a very solid back up. This group is strong from top to bottom and can hang with any receiving corps in the league. Overall grade A

Defensive Summary: This defense was able to hold all of its preseason opponents to around 200 yards of total offense or less, and kept every team well below 40% on third down conversions with an average of around 27%. This defense has kept teams from running the ball effectively and kept teams from feeling comfortable passing. The reality is that this may be one of the deepest defenses this team has ever fielded. I have little doubt that this defense will finish in the top 3, and likely the number 1 defense by the end of the season.


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