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News » Tampa Bay Buccaneers Inside Slant 2008-08-28

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Inside Slant 2008-08-28

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Inside Slant 2008-08-28
The Bucs know all about the up-and-down nature of the NFC South. In fact, they are responsible for it.

Tampa Bay has won the division three times in the past six years. But there has never been a repeat champion.

That's the task of the Bucs this season. But continuity - especially at the quarterback position - has never been a strong suit of coach Jon Gruden.

This season, Jeff Garcia could provide that as he returns for his second season after leading the Bucs to a divisional title and being named to the Pro Bowl. However, that didn't stop Gruden's wandering eye.

Garcia has had to deal with a lot of off-season debris, like getting stiffed by the team on a $1-million playing time incentive, the lack of a contract extension and the futile flirtation with Brett Favre.

"It doesn't have any effect on how I play," Garcia said. "I've said this before, I'm not looking at any of the things that have happened during the off-season or during the start of training camp as anything that needs to take away from my focus of playing football for this team and that's really where it is.

"I don't like talking about those things. I would've rather that those things would've never become an issue and we would've never had to discuss them. Unfortunately, they did come to light, but I'd rather put that stuff behind me and focus on playing football."

Unfortunately, a right calf injury forced Garcia to miss most of training camp and the preseason. He was incredibly rusty when he did play. Not to worry. The Bucs traded with the Chicago Bears for Brian Griese and still have Luke McCown, who started three games in 2007. Even rookie Josh Johnson could be available.

Another concern for the Bucs has been their receiver position. Joey Galloway, who had off-season shoulder surgery, missed all of training camp and the preseason with a groin strain. He is expected to be available for the season opener, but there are questions about whether he can be the same player at 36 who has three straight, 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

In fact, the Bucs may not have done enough to fortify the receiving position. Outside of signing Antonio Bryant as a free agent, the Bucs used a second round pick on Dexter Jackson of Appalachian State. However, Jackson never caught more than 33 passes in a season during his college career.

That means Tampa Bay will be relying on the improvement of Michael Clayton, who has caught just one TD pass since his rookie year; and Maurice Stovall, a big target who has struggled getting separation.

"We need somebody to step up and at times, they all have,'' Gruden said.

Defensively, the Bucs will be strong again. They finished second in the NFL in total defense, thanks to the league's best unit against the pass. Adding to that is No. 1 draft pick Aqib Talib, who will start at nickel corner. Talib has great balls skills and should help produce more turnovers.

The strength of the team may be the Bucs' offensive line. Tampa Bay made Saints free agent Jeff Faine the highest-paid center in NFL history. At 26, he is the old man of the group that includes guards Arron Sears and Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Unfortunately, Joseph suffered a broken foot in the preseason and will miss the season opener for the second time in three seasons.

Expect the Bucs to contend for another championship. But if past is prologue, that could be a tall order in the NFC South.

COACHING: Jon Gruden, 11th year, 7th with Bucs (86-74 overall).

REMEMBERING 2007 record: 9-8 (1st in the NFC South); lost in the NFC wildcard game to the New York Giants, 24-14.

PREDICTING: 2007 regular season record 9-7 (2nd in the NFC South); lose in the wildcard game.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 28, 2008

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