Going strong at age 35, wide receiver Joey Galloway's blazing speed is a valuable asset to the Bucs' offense.
The Texans look to follow up their second straight convincing victory and close out the preseason on a high note as they travel to Raymond James Stadium to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.
The Bucs, also 2-1 this preseason, hope to rebound after a disappointing 2006 season. A rash of injuries and inconsistent play led to a 4-12 season, the worst record in head coach Jon Gruden's nine-year coaching career.
Gruden and his staff spent the offseason retooling a few key units on the team, adding several new players to the mix. These players must work together with their new teammates and contribute immediately if the Bucs are to regain their playoff-caliber form.
Tampa's offense was anemic last season, totaling only 237 first downs and averaging less than 15 points per game. Gruden, known as an offensive wizard, set out to find a leader for his beleaguered offense. He found one in veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia.
Garcia, on his fifth team in five seasons, led the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFC East division crown after filling in for Donovan McNabb last season. He showed he still has plenty of life left in his arm by throwing for 1,309 yards and tossing 10 touchdowns. The nine-year veteran gives the Bucs a legitimate playmaker at the quarterback position, something they have lacked in years past.
Backing up Garcia is last year's starter, Chris Simms. Still recovering from a spleen injury last year, Simms will give way to Bruce Gradkowski if he is not healthy to start the season. Gradkowski filled in as starter when Simms went down last season.
In the backfield, former Auburn standout Cadillac Williams needs to overcome his disappointing sophomore season. After his impressive rookie campaign in 2005, Williams rushed for only 798 yards and recorded just one touchdown all of last season. Still a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield (30 catches in 2006), Williams should benefit from Garcia's playmaking ability and probably won't see as many eight-man fronts as he did last season. Behind Williams is steady veteran Michael Pittman, who rushed for 245 yards and hauled in 47 receptions in a reserve role last season.
Tampa has a new face leading the way for both runners this season, as longtime fullback and fan favorite Mike Alstott suffered a season-ending neck injury in the preseason and may be forced to retire. Taking over for Alstott is B.J. Askew, who comes over from the New York Jets.
Headlining the receiving corps is 13-year veteran Joey Galloway. Even at age 35, Galloway is one of the fastest receivers in the NFL and is a dangerous deep ball threat every time he steps on the field. Galloway posted another fine season last year, with 62 catches, 1,057 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Joining Galloway are fellow veterans Ike Hilliard (34 receptions, 2 TD) and David Boston, as well as fourth-year man Michael Clayton. Clayton, the former LSU star, is still searching for the production he had during his rookie season in 2004. Last season, he only caught 33 passes and one touchdown.
At tight end, Alex Smith (33 receptions, three touchdowns) is once again pegged to start. Tampa also signed free-agent Jerramy Stevens to give Garcia another big target in the middle of the field. Last season in Seattle, Stevens made 22 receptions and four touchdowns. Reliable reserve Anthony Becht will see action in three-end sets.
Along the offensive line, several changes were necessary to avoid a repeat of last season's dismal performance. The Bucs signed veteran tackle and former New York Giant Luke Petitgout to solidify the left tackle spot. At left guard, Tampa expects that 2007 second-round pick Aaron Sears will start and contribute immediately. The remaining spots along the line will remain unchanged. John Wade returns at center, Davin Joseph remains at right guard and Jeremy Trueblood anchors the right tackle position. Anthony Davis, who started every game in 2005 and 2006, has been relegated to backup duty at guard and tackle.
Tampa struggled defensively last season for many reasons, one of those being a lack of a pass rush. The entire defense combined only totaled 25 sacks last season, a number uncommonly low for a Monte Kiffin-led defense. The sack total must increase for Tampa's defense to be as effective as in years past.
On the defensive line, major changes were made, with former ends Simeon Rice and Dewayne White no longer on the team. Instead, Tampa welcomes in free agent additions Kevin Carter and Patrick Chukwurah and 2007 fourth overall pick Gaines Adams. Adams will join solid veteran Greg Spires as starter on the end, while Chukwurah will appear mostly in pass-rushing situations. Carter should see most of his action at tackle. Holdovers Chris Hovan and Ellis Wyms will be part of the rotation at tackle with Carter.
Tampa's solid linebacking corps will look much different this season without veteran Shelton Quarles, who was released in the offseason. Third-year veteran Barrett Rudd will replace Quarles in the middle and he has some very big shoes to fill. On the strongside, Tampa signed free agent Cato June, who turned in a Pro Bowl season in Indianapolis with 142 tackles, three sacks and one interception. At the weakside position, longtime veteran and future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks (121 tackles, three interceptions) anchors the unit. While Brooks may not be the Pro Bowl-caliber player he once was, he will be rock-solid at his position. In reserve roles, Ryan Nece and Jamie Winborn will be ready to step in should the need arise.
Headlining the secondary is four-time Pro Bowler Ronde Barber. Coming off yet another Pro Bowl selection, Barber (98 tackles, three interceptions) will be joined by Brian Kelly on the other side. Kelly sat out 14 games last season due to turf toe and his coverage skills were sorely missed. Former Texan Philip Buchanon and Sammy Davis will be the top backups at cornerback and will see action in nickel and dime packages.
At the safety spots, Will Allen (77 tackles) and Jermaine Phillips (104 tackles, two interceptions, one sack) return as starters, but were sent a message when Tampa drafted two safeties in this year's draft (Sabbi Piscitelli – Oregon State; Tanard Jackson – Syracuse). If either Allen or Phillips struggle, one of the rookies may be asked to step in.
Tampa is solid in the kicking game with kicker Matt Bryant (17-22 FG) and punter Josh Bidwell (43.5 avg.) returning in their roles this season.
Returning kickoffs and punts will be backup wide receiver Mark Jones.
What to Watch For
- Even though Jeff Garcia was brought in, the Bucs' offense seems to lack playmakers yet again this season. With Cadillac Williams' durability an issue, and the lack of a second receiver behind Joey Galloway, Garcia needs someone besides himself to make plays this season.
- How will the rebuilt left side of the offensive line hold up? New left tackle Luke Petitgout is coming off a major injury and left guard Aaron Sears is a rookie. How this side of the line holds up will play a major role in the success of the offense this season.