The most important trait for a quarterback with the Bucs is the gene pool. Tampa Bay's newest passer, Luke McCown, is the brother of Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown. The Bucs' two other quarterbacks -- Brian Griese and Chris Simms -- are the sons of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Bob Griese and Phil Simms, respectively.
Fourth in the first
Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams is only the fourth Bucs running back to be selected in the first round, joining Ricky Bell in '77, Bo Jackson in '86 and Warrick Dunn in '97.
Don't forget about me
Michael Pittman still sees room in the backfield despite the team using its first-round pick on Williams. "Just because we've got the Cadillac doesn't mean Michael Pittman's not going to play," says Pittman. "I'm going to play. I may still even start. But we're going to work together, regardless. It's an opportunity for both of us to get better. We're just looking forward to working together and that's why, when Cadillac gets here, I'm going to do my best to help him learn this offense. If we're on the field at the same time, it makes all our weapons better."
What have you done lately?
For the first time since '97, the Bucs will not be on Monday Night Football. Or Sunday night, for that matter. Two years removed from winning the Super Bowl, the Bucs have no primetime games.
The Prophecy: "Martin Gramatica needs to have better aim or he won't be around long."
The Lie: "The Bucs traded Keyshawn Johnson to Dallas for Joey Galloway, who will allow Jon Gruden to stretch the field."
To order your 2005 Athlon Sports annual and receive $1 off plus free shipping courtesy of SI.com, click here.
It took a trip to Kapalua, Hawaii, for the NFL owners meeting last spring for Bucs coach Jon Gruden to gain some perspective. Sure, the Bucs have lost 20 of 32 games in the past two seasons. But Tampa Bay is still the only team other than the New England Patriots to win a Super Bowl in the last four years. That has to count for something, right?
“I’ll be honest, I don’t like to lose,” Gruden says. “I felt we had a better chance to win more games the last couple of seasons. I’m not going to be a basket case. People are going to be critical. I’m doing the best I can, and I’m real proud of the guys on our staff. Our team competes. You’re not going to win games if you can’t make field goals. And you’re not going to win games if you turn the ball over. The coach is responsible for that, so be it. But we’re going to keep working hard and come back.”
The Bucs had 36 giveaways last season, and for the second straight year finished near the bottom of the league in field goal accuracy. But they are still a team in transition, with more than $10 million in dead salary cap money. They’ll be in a better position to compete in ’06.
So what about ’05? The defense is still solid enough to keep the Bucs in every game, and the addition of Carnell “Cadillac” Williams should make the offense roll smoothly.
The Bucs kicked Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson overboard after an 0–4 start, and Chris Simms hurt his shoulder in his first NFL start. So Brian Griese emerged as the starter, completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and threw 20 touchdown passes in 11 games (10 starts).
It was enough to prompt the Bucs to re-sign Griese to a five-year, $32-million deal in February. But the way the deal’s structured, the Bucs can part ways with Griese after the 2005 season.
Simms has been in Gruden’s doghouse almost since he arrived in Tampa and did nothing to help himself with a dismal performance in a season-ending loss at Arizona. The Bucs traded a sixth-round pick to Cleveland for Luke McCown, who made four starts for the Browns as a rookie -- twice as many as Simms.
Gruden has ordered Griese back in the weight room to add more muscle. He’ll need it if he is going to survive a 16-game season behind a porous offensive line.
The Bucs’ elusive search for a franchise back may be over if Williams fulfills his promise as the No. 5 pick. The Bucs have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 2000.
“He can be involved in every aspect of your offense,” GM Bruce Allen says of Williams. “1st-and-10, 2nd-and-3, fourth-and-1, he’s involved in the play.”
Michael Pittman is coming off a career-best 926 yards, but he led the NFL with six lost fumbles. At 30, he will be a good change of pace back to spell Williams, and Gruden may use both backs in the same lineup to create passing mismatches.
Fullback Mike Alstott returns for his 10th, and likely final, season. Charlie Garner is trying to recover from a severe knee injury that ended his 2004 season after three games.
Michael Clayton was a Rookie of the Year candidate who set club records for first-year receivers with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. He can be a Pro Bowl-type player if he avoids the sophomore jinx. He just doesn’t have much help. Veteran Joey Galloway re-signed as a free agent and gives the Bucs someone to stretch the field. But he is an injury risk. Last year, Galloway pulled his groin in the season-opener and missed six games. He was effective after returning with six touchdowns in five games. The Bucs grabbed three receivers in the draft but none were picked in the first four rounds.
Since Gruden arrived in 2002, the Bucs never have finished higher than 24th in rushing. They were 29th last season. And for the fourth straight season, the Bucs will try to rebuild their offensive line. Last year’s experiment with old free agents like Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie is over. Tampa Bay hopes second-year pro Jeb Terry and veteran Matt Stinchcomb can take over at the guard positions. The Bucs addressed the future by drafting North Carolina State tackle Chris Colmer and Wisconsin guard Daniel Buenning.
The Bucs would get a huge boost if center John Wade recovers from a dislocated knee. If not, third-year pro Sean Mahan is ready to step in like he did last season.
Kenyatta Walker, who took over for Steussie at right tackle in Week 5, may finally start living up to his status as a first-round pick. Of course, being able to block for Cadillac and staying out of 3rd-and-long will be a big plus.
If healthy, this is the Bucs’ best and deepest unit. After a slow start, Simeon Rice led the club with 12 sacks, and Greg Spires had a Pro Bowl-worthy season with eight sacks. But Anthony McFarland has to prove he can stay healthy after missing significant time in the latter half of the season for the second time in three years. Last year, an elbow injury kept him sidelined for the final eight games.
“If I stay on the field, I’ll be all right. That’s all I’ve got to do,” McFarland says. “In this game, sometimes you get a little unfortunate and sometimes you don’t, but that’s part of the reality of life. Sometimes you travel a straight road and sometimes it has curves in it.”
Second-year pro Dewayne White was effective at defensive end or tackle, at one point recording 5.5 sacks over a six-game stretch. Ellis Wyms and Damian Gregory return from injured reserve, and Alabama rookie Anthony Bryant, at 338 pounds, can stuff the middle at nosetackle, where he’ll back up Chris Hovan.
Face it: The Bucs’ defense is getting old, and no unit is older than linebacker. Derrick Brooks is 32, Jeff Gooch is 30 and Shelton Quarles will be 34 when the season starts. No surprise, then, that the Bucs used a second-round pick on Nebraska middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
“We need a mike (middle) linebacker, for years to come, for down the road,” says defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. “We’re getting old at the linebacker spot (with) Jeff Gooch, Derrick and Shelton.”
Just don’t make the mistake of thinking Brooks is ready for the gold watch. He made his eighth consecutive Pro Bowl a year ago and somehow finds a way to remain at a high level when others his age are beginning to decline.
The Bucs re-signed backup strong-side linebacker Ryan Nece to a five-year deal, and he will compete with Gooch.
The Bucs led the NFL in passing defense by allowing just 161.2 yards per game. They have a pair of bookend corners in veterans Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly. Barber was named to his second Pro Bowl after recording 111 tackles, three interceptions and returning two fumble recoveries for touchdowns. But over half the teams in the league had more than the 16 interceptions recorded by the Bucs in 2004.
Jermaine Phillips, who has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons, moves to strong safety with the departure of Dwight Smith to New Orleans. Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson is on his second stint with the Bucs since being released by the Cardinals. He will enter training camp as the starter at free safety but will get a push from second-year pro Will Allen. The Bucs hope they upgraded at nickel back with Jaguars free agent Juran Bolden.
The Bucs mercifully have parted ways with placekicker Martin Gramatica, who made just 11-of-19 attempts last season. Tampa Bay will be counting on vagabond kicker Matt Bryant, a career 80 percent field goal kicker, to be the difference in close games. Punter Josh Bidwell was a disappointing 15th in the league with a 42.3 average.
The Bucs are still a year or two from returning to the status of Super Bowl contender, and Gruden may not have that long. Griese doesn’t seem like the long-term answer at quarterback, and Simms has done little to impress the Bucs in his few appearances. Having Williams to give the ball to could make an enormous difference in the offense. Defensively, Tampa Bay will finish in the top 5 again. But transition is painful in the NFL, and the Bucs still don’t look like a playoff team.