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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3rd in NFC South
Williams expects to rev up his numbers with the help of a potent passing game.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
2007 Schedule
Date Opponent Date Opponent
Sept. 9 Seattle Nov. 11 Bye
Sept. 16 NEW ORLEANS Nov. 18 at Atlanta
Sept. 23 ST. LOUIS Nov. 25 Washington
Sept. 30 at Carolina Dec. 2 at New Orleans
Oct. 7 at Indianapolis Dec. 9 at Houston
Oct. 14 TENNESSEE Dec. 16 ATLANTA
Oct. 21 at Detroit Dec. 23 at San Francisco
Oct. 28 JACKSONVILLE Dec. 30 CAROLINA
Nov. 4 ARIZONA    
The King 500
95 Ronde Barber,Cornerback
For the first time in 11 years he's the only NFLer in his family. "Remember, Tiki was taking hits all these years," Ronde says, "while I've been giving them out." A physical Cover Two corner who often plays the curl-zone nickelback, he made his fourth Pro Bowl last year and doesn't appear to be slowing. "I'll do this as long as I can," says Barber, 32, "but Tiki's retirement has injected a little reality."

The quarterback carousel has taken another spin, a fitting symbol for a club that seems to be going around in circles

WHAT'S NEW?

Once again: the starting quarterback. Last year Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay all took turns, without lasting success. Exacting coach Jon Gruden, feeling the heat after a 4-12 season, has turned to free agent Jeff Garcia, who rescued the Eagles in relief of Donovan McNabb and, at age 37, will be playing for his fifth team in five seasons. Gruden hasn't been happy with anyone at the position since Brad Johnson took the Bucs to the Super Bowl five years ago, but from the outset of camp the coach liked what he saw in Garcia. "I think he's a hell of a quarterback," Gruden says, "and to achieve greatness in the NFL, you need stellar play from the quarterback."

The Garcia signing was only the biggest rumble among many, as the Bucs continue to overhaul their roster. Defensive veterans Simeon Rice and Shelton Quarles were released for failing physicals, which could leave the team with an opening-day starting lineup that includes as few as four holdover starters from that 2002 championship team. Free agents Luke Petitgout (left tackle), Kevin Carter (defensive tackle) and Cato June (linebacker) were added. "I came here because they want to win now," says Carter, a 13th-year vet who won a Super Bowl with the Rams. "This is no rebuilding; this is inserting a few veterans for help, right now."

WHERE THEY'RE HEADED

The numbers speak the truth about the franchise. "We're 10 games under .500 since we won the Super Bowl," says veteran outside linebacker Derrick Brooks. "What happened around here five years ago is ancient history." Since taking home the Lombardi Trophy, the Bucs have had one winning season and played in one playoff game. "We've been mediocre for a while now," says cornerback Ronde Barber. "There's a need to win." If they don't, jobs could be lost, including Gruden's.

Garcia is the key. Last year Gruden publicly supported Simms in August, but the young quarterback was terrible in three starts and suffered a ruptured spleen in Week 3; he has been slow to come back and was fighting for his roster spot in training camp. Gruden tried to make a player out of rookie Bruce Gradkowski, but in 13 games (11 starts) he had an abysmal 65.9 passing rating, and the Bucs went 3-8 in his starts. Rattay was better, but he was simply running out the clock on a lost season.

Meanwhile Garcia showed passion, leadership and toughness in taking the Eagles to the NFC divisional round after McNabb went down last November. Garcia also has experience running the West Coast-style offense Gruden favors. "I love Jeff's presence and the way he competes," says wideout Joey Galloway, who'll turn 36 in November. "When you've got a veteran quarterback and a veteran receiver, you've seen a lot together."

After disastrous stops in Cleveland (2004) and Detroit ('05), Garcia earned a new life in Philly and now gets another shot at running a team from Day One. "I picked this team because it was the best chance to compete for a starting job on a team not far removed from winning a Super Bowl," Garcia says. "And it's different from last year, where I was watching Donovan lead the team and I was just trying to get comfortable. Here it's been attack mode from the beginning."

If Garcia is effective, third-year running back Cadillac Williams will benefit. As a rookie out of Auburn in 2005, Williams rushed for 1,178 yards and was an electric presence. Last year he tailed off to 798 yards (on 65 fewer carries), prompting questions about his durability. "We had young quarterbacks last year," says Williams. "People crowded the line of scrimmage on us. With Garcia that won't happen. I really feel like this is the year for me."

Williams will run without the drive blocking of veteran fullback Mike Alstott, who was placed on injured reserve and is probably finished. Petitgout is expected to anchor an O-line that will include three starters -- Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood and Arron Sears -- with less than two years' experience. Swift maturation will be vital.

Cover Two guru Monte Kiffin continues to tweak the defense. A year ago, when the unit was beset by injury, opposing quarterbacks had a lusty 91.0 rating. So Tampa Bay signed June from Indianapolis to shore up the linebacking unit and drafted defensive end Gaines Adams of Clemson in the first round to replace Rice. "I've got a lot on my plate," Adams said during training camp. "Pro offensive linemen do some intelligent stuff." Barrett Ruud, a second-round pick in 2005, will start at middle linebacker, and Barber, Philip Buchanon and Brian Kelly can be a formidable cover trio. "We feel better about our defense," says Gruden. "Some players who had storied careers are gone, and we'll miss them. But it's time to get to work and have some fun with the guys we have now."

How much fun depends on Garcia holding together in his dotage, a young offensive line growing up quickly and Kiffin's defense getting much better in a year. It's a lot to ask -- and a long way from 4-12 to respectability. -- Tim Layden

Issue date: September 3, 2007

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