2006 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally managed to win their elusive first Super Bowl title following the 2002 season under head coach, Jon Gruden, most Tampa Bay fans, and NFL observers in general, thought the Bucs would become a perennial playoff powerhouse under Gruden, who, captured the imagination on the national media at the time with his boyish good looks and aptly chosen nickname, “Chucky.”

Although things did not go as planned – and Tampa Bay floundered for a couple of seasons while rebuilding – it would seem that Gruden has his team in an even better position to maintain the level of excellence that he expects from his talented team.
Talented or not, the Bucs will have their work cut out for them in the ultra-competitive NFC this season.

Here is my 2006 preview on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Quarterback
Like a bolt of lightning, Chris Simms transformed from a talented young quarterback who was lost in the wilderness of complex NFL defenses, to a confident leader who showed everyone why such big things were expected from the son of former Super Bowl winning quarterback, Phil Sims. Tampa Bay also has veteran, Tim Rattay to backup up Sims in an emergency.

Running Back
After last season, nearly every head coach and general manager in the league wanted a “Cadillac” of their very own. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams ran his way to the Rookie of the Year award last season, but like most rookies, struggled at times with both, injuries and inconsistency.

Williams should be even better in 2006 with a year of NFL experience under his belt. Veteran Michael Pittman is back to spell Williams, while Mike Alstott and Jerald Sowell will split time at the fullback position.

Wide Receiver/Tight End
Tampa Bay got an absolutely unbelievable season out of the aging Joey Galloway last season. Having said that, if the Bucs don’t get better production out of third-year man, Michael Clayton, their passing game could suffer.

One year after leading all NFL rookies with 1,193 yards receiving and six touchdown catches, Clayton’s numbers fell to 32 catches last season and no trips to the end zone.

The Bucs do have two experienced receivers in veterans, David Boston and Ike Hilliard who should also help Sims’ continued growth.

Offensive Line
Tampa Bay’s entire starting offensive line returns in 2006 and should be even more cohesive than they were last season.
Tackles, Kenyatta Walker and Anthony Davis, along with center, John Wade and guards, Sean Mahan and Dan Buenning, the Bucs have a solid foundation up front for both Sims and Williams to succeed.

Defensive Line
Defensive end, Simeon Rice is one of the best down linemen in all of football and ranked third in the league last season with 14 sacks. Nose tackle Chris Hovan, is a run stuffing specialist whose presence in Tampa Bay last season, helped the Bucs shore up their porous run defense from 2004. Tampa Bay’s other defensive end, Greg Spires, needs to improve his play before he finds himself coming in off the bench as a rotation player.

Linebackers
Derrick Brooks may be aging, but like Galloway, Brooks has shown that he still has what it takes to compete with players a decade younger than themselves.

Unfortunately, Tampa Bay’s other linebackers are nowhere close to the Pro Bowl level that Brooks has displayed throughout his entire career. Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles is average at best and strong-side linebacker Ryan Nece isn’t much better.

Defensive Backs
Tampa Bay has one of the best defensive backs in the league in Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber. The team’s other corner, Brian Kelly is an experienced veteran, although both he and Barber are aging ever so slowly. Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen will play the safety positions for Gruden, although I’m not sure how effective the injury-prone Allen will be over the course of the long 16-game season.

Special Teams
Tampa Bay’s special teams could use a serious upgrade. Kicker Matt Bryant was atrocious last season although punter, Josh Bidwell was a Pro Bowler. Tampa Bay also needs to find someone who can be a legitimate threat on kickoff and punt
returns. Mark Jones and Pittman are not – repeat – not – the answer.

I am still amazed by the fact that no player in Bucs history has returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Heck, as old as I am, with a couple of blocks, I think I could “take it to the house.”

Coaching
Gruden is certainly showing that he was no one-hit wonder. He has his team in a position to, not only be a legitimate contender for NFC supremacy this season, but for several seasons to come.

Simply put, Gruden looks as though he’s finally ready for a sequel to his 2002 hit. I can just see it now, ‘The return of Chucky.’ Sounds like a hit to me.

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