2003 NFL Preview

Posted: Friday July 11, 2003 11:31 AM

   Tampa Bay
2002 Record: 12-4
Head Coach: Jon Gruden
50-30 overall, 5-2 postseason
  Passing Brad Johnson
281-451, 3,049 yards, 22 TDs, 6 INTs
  Rushing Michael Pittman
204 carries, 718 yards, 1 TDs
  Receiving Keyshawn Johnson
76 catches, 1,088 yards, 5 TDs
  Kicking Martin Gramatica
32-39 FGs, 32-32 PATs, 128 points
Schedule | Roster | Statistics | Stadium
By Ryan Hunt,

It's a new day in Tampa Bay. And, boy, could this team ever be something if it could just win a cold-weather game. Or if it could just on the road in the playoffs. In Philadelphia. Uh, wait.

In a span of a little more than a month, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers erased every dark cloud in the franchise's mostly sordid 27-year history. OK, about all of them. How 'bout a kickoff return for a touchdown? At least the Bucs still have something to shoot for.

But for the first time, the entire NFL is gunning for the Bucs. How will Tampa Bay respond? The Bucs can hope it's nothing like the offseason, in which three players (Kenyatta Walker, Dwight Smith and Michael Pittman) ran into trouble with the law. The Pittman situation is the most serious, forcing the Bucs to make a deal with Arizona to get Thomas Jones.

Pittman potentially could be in jail by the time the season opens, which makes the running game an even bigger question mark. Jon Gruden wasn't happy with having the league's 27th-ranked rushing offense last season, even despite Pittman's 124-yard outburst in the 48-21 Super Bowl win over the Raiders. Without Pittman, Mike Alstott the aforementioned, underperforming Jones and perhaps Aaron Stecker will have to carry the load.

With Tampa Bay, the story is always defense. But with the Falcons and Saints breathing down their neck, the Bucs will have find some more answers in order to repeat.

>> Impact Signing
C John Wade -- The offensive line took its share of criticism last season, so the Bucs made it an offseason priority to upgrade the talent and depth. With Wade, a former Jaguar, and Jason Whittle, Tampa Bay thinks it accomplished its goal. Wade especially will be an immediate help, replacing the aging Jeff Christy at the center position.

>> Impact Loss
FS Dexter Jackson -- But his loss probably won't hurt as much as you may think. Sure Jackson was the Super Bowl MVP after his two-interception performance. But Jackson had only three regular-season picks. His departure is similar to when Damian Robinson left in free agency, allowing Jackson to earn the job. This time, Jackson's departure paves the way for either Dwight Smith (who also had two Super Bowl picks), John Howell or Jermaine Phillips to the starting role.

>> Fantasy Stud
WR Keyshawn Johnson -- The bad news: His receptions and yards fell off last season. The good news: He caught five TDs (compared to just one in 2001) and set a career high with a 14.3 yards-per-catch average. Given the unsettled situation at running back, the Bucs passing game may continue to take center stage, with Keyshawn being the focal point of the attack. He'll need to score more TDs, though, to bring his value back up. Six TDs the past two seasons is not all that great after he averaged nearly eight per year in his first five seasons.

>> Fantasy Dud
RB Michael Pittman -- Forget the surprising 124-yard game at the Super Bowl, Pittman was a very disappointing fantasy option last season, scoring just one TD and never rushing for more than 62 yards in a game until Week 17. However, his legal problems this offseason could take its toll, whether it's a suspension, lack of playing time or even an outright release. The Bucs may be preparing for life without Pittman by picking up Thomas Jones this offseason, and the team still has Mike Alstott to score TDs. Even without the legal problems, it's best to stay away from Pittman.

>> Fantasy Sleeper
WR Joe Jurevicius -- While he had just 37 catches for 423 yards last season, he became a force in the playoffs. He had a 71-yard catch-and-run in the NFC title game and a team leading 78 yards in the Super Bowl. Surprisingly, he's become the team's big play receiver, and the team's emphasis on the passing game means he'll get lots of chances to put up big yards. He'd be a great third or fourth fantasy option.

>> Bucs will make the playoffs because...
That defense is just too damn good. And the offensive line should be better, which in turn will keep Brad Johnson off his back. In games when the Bucs allowed two or fewer sacks last season, the Bucs were 15-0.

>> Bucs will not make the playoffs because...
Brad Johnson gets injured. Last season, without Johnson, Tampa Bay scored only one touchdown in 12 quarters. And the backup situation still is unsettled, with the rehabiliting Jim Miller on track to be the No. 2 guy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Signed  From  Lost  To 
LB Shelton Quarles  Re-signed  C Todd Washington  Released 
G Jason Whittle  Giants  C Jeff Christy  Released 
C John Wade  Jaguars  QB Rob Johnson  Redskins 
QB Shane Matthews  Redskins  S Dexter Jackson  Cardinals 
QB Jim Miller  Bears  LB Al Singleton  Cowboys 
TE Rickey Dudley  Re-signed  WR Ramondo North  Released 
T Roman Oben  Re-signed  QB Shane Matthews  Bengals 
QB Shaun King  Re-signed  QB Greg Zolman  Released 
TE Todd Yoder  Re-signed  WR Marquise Walker  Trade w/ Ari. 
C Ryan Benjamin  Re-signed     
LB Dwayne Rudd  Browns     
WR Jacquez Green  Lions     
RB Aaron Stecker  Re-signed     
LB Nate Webster  Re-signed     
LB Jack Golden  Re-signed     
WR Charles Lee  Re-signed     
WR Chris Taylor  Giants     
RB Terry Kirby  Raiders     
RB Thomas Jones  Trade w/ Ari.     
WR Reggie Barlow  Re-signed     
P Tom Tupa  Re-signed     
Unrestricted  Restricted 
T Lomas Brown   
2003 Draft Picks
Rd.  Pick  Player  Pos.  School 
32(64)  Dewayne White  DE  Louisville  
33(97)  Chris Simms  QB  Texas  
33(130)  Lance Nimmo  OT  West Virginia  
36(133)  Austin King  Northwestern  
33(168)  Sean Mahan  OG  Notre Dame  
32(205)  Torrie Cox  CB  Pittsburgh  

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