Here are my thoughts on this team / the roster after the completion of game one. These are in no specific order, and these thoughts aren’t entirely dependent/reflective of the game against the Dolphins.
1) We need to upgrade behind Josh Freeman
I’ve been as big a supporter of Josh Johnson as you’ll find, but it’s clear that we need to have a better backup plan should Freeman have an extended absence. The problem is that the backup QB talent pool is junk, and a pretty decent candidate was dealt to Pittsburgh where he’ll start the season as their QB1. I don’t see a move worth making, but that doesn’t mean our situation is sound. I also don’t see anything in Rudy Carpenter. Freeman looks more confident and prepared from the last time we saw him in action, so that was a nice building block. Consistent decision making and chemistry with the receiving talent are what I’m looking for from Freeman early on.
2) Derrick Ward shouldn’t be guaranteed a roster spot
The free agent from New York was one of the many ugly spots on the Bucs last year, and he hasn’t done much to turn it around in 2010. I don’t care if it’s the 2nd unit, the 3rd unit, or the 6th unit, Kareem Huggins looks far more prepared and obviously hungrier for carries than Ward. I think the Bucs save over $3 million if they decide to cut Ward, and at this point, that might be the wise move. I was very supportive in bringing him in last offseason (he was one of my targets), but this (possibly perceived) lackadaisical effort isn’t what I was expecting. I don’t have huge hopes for Cadillac, but he’s still busting his ass, showing a burst, and is clearly the #1 RB. Huggins doesn’t have the sharpened skills or rounded game you want in a lead back at this point, but he’s shown me enough to deserve a handful of carries a game. Bottom line – We’re better off saving $3 million and/or getting a draft pick instead of having an unimpressive Ward sit on the sidelines and/or take carries away from Huggins.
3) I’m confused at FB
I don’t have it as a huge priority, but I’d like to have a pure thumper behind Earnest Graham. I’m not sure if the Bucs are committed to keeping Chris Pressley or Rendrick Taylor, but I also don’t see the Bucs relying on a “true” fullback a lot of the time this year. Pressley would be the guy I’m guessing they’d keep, but if it comes down to Pressley and someone like Ryan Purvis, who gets the roster spot?
4) If we keep 6 WR, the last one should be Micheal Spurlock
I wrote about this last week, but my opinion remains unchanged. Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams, and Sammie Stroughter are absolute locks. Reggie Brown is a near lock, and if he’s not hurt too bad, I think Maurice Stovall has earned a roster spot as well. I’ve always appreciated Spurlock’s committed return style, and he showed it again vs. the Dolphins. He’s shown the ability to catch the football, and should something happen to Clifton Smith, he’s an established returner. For me the decision is incredibly easy, but I’m eager to see if the Bucs are willing to admit their mistake with the other Mike just yet.
5) We need to check the waiver wire for OL depth
It’s something we needed to do this offseason, and it hasn’t become less of a need as we’ve gotten closer to the season. Donald Penn, Keydrick Vincent (Jeremy Zuttah), Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph, and Jeremy Trueblood will be our starters, but our depth is uninspiring. Going by reports, Jonathan Compas isn’t progressing as expected, and their usage of Zuttah center may spell his doom. James Lee and Marc Dile haven’t exactly stepped up and earned anything either. Second year player Xavier Fulton is even behind those guys in development. Demar Dotson seems like the only backup lineman lock, although both Compas and Dile could make the club due to a lack of better alternatives. We’ve got to hope the starting front five stays healthy, or Freeman’s development could be stunted in year two.
6) Michael Bennett must make this team
Our DE depth is, here it comes again, uninspiring, so to see a player like Michael Bennett bust his ass every snap and actually put together some productive plays is something to get excited about. Kyle Moore has been handed the starting job across from Stylez White, but if Bennett continues to penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield, he’s going to see the field quite a bit. I really like his motor and consistent push.
7) No excuses for Ruud
There should be no excuses for Barrett Ruud this season. He’s back in the scheme he grew up in as a pro, and he should be hungrier than ever with free agency looming after the season. In addition to getting huge upgrades up front with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, I expect both Geno Hayes and Quincy Black to elevate their play as well. I’m far more confident in Hayes’ development into a steady, week-in-week-out leader than Black, but I still think the SLB has more to show us. Black has to be a lot more consistent and take advantage of those game-changing opportunities when they present themselves. His movements need to become second nature, and he must quit making decisions out there. I don’t know if that makes too much sense, but he needs to simply play football, read the action, and keep the football in front of him. The pieces around our MLB should be noticeably improved, so he’ll likely only have himself to blame should the Bucs suit up a different man in the middle next year.
8 ) The CB situation looks clear to me
I think that Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber, EJ Biggers, Elbert Mack, and Myron Lewis are clearly our five corners. No one else has shown themselves to be worthy of a roster spot. I still worry about Ronde’s ability to hold up as a viable starter, but I like the status of the young depth better than I have in the past.
9) Someone is likely to get squeezed out at safety
I have a hard time seeing the Bucs keep 5 safeties, and I’m guessing Sabby Piscitelli and Sean Jones are both on the final 53. Tanard Jackson starts at FS, so that should only leave one safety spot to go to one of two deserving young talents. Cody Grimm has impressed this preseason and looks like he could contribute early on special teams. I liked what I saw from Corey Lynch last year, and he showed against the Dolphins that he can make some plays on defense. Problem is, I don’t see them both making the final cut. I expect to see both of these guys playing 150% in the remaining preseason games in an effort to make the team.
10) My 53 as of now:
QB (3) – Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Rudy Carpenter
RB (3) – Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward, Kareem Huggins
FB (1) – Earnest Graham
WR (5) – Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter, Reggie Brown, Maurice Stovall
TE (3) – Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens, John Gilmore
OL (9) – Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, Keydrick Vincent, Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, James Lee, Jonathan Compas, Demar Dotson
DE (5) – Stylez White, Kyle Moore, Tim Crowder, Michael Bennett, Erik Lorig
DT (4) – Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Roy Miller, Ryan Sims
LB (6) – Geno Hayes, Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Jon Alston, Dekoda Watson
CB (5) – Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber, EJ Biggers, Elbert Mack, Myron Lewis
S (5) – Tanard Jackson, Sean Jones, Sabby Piscitelli, Cody Grimm, (*)Corey Lynch
ST (4) – Andrew Economos, Connor Barth, Brent Bowden, Clifton Smith
* = owns roster spot #53
On the outside: Micheal Spurlock, Ryan Purvis, Xavier Fulton, Dre Moore, and Chris Pressley
I think Spurlock gets the call if they go with 6 wide or Stovall’s injury is serious. I’d love to see Purvis on the roster, but would the Bucs keep 4 TE or cut Stevens or Gilmore? Fulton seems stuck behind the rest of the depth up front and (IMO) isn’t deserving of a roster spot ahead of these other bubble guys. I’m guessing the Bucs decide to keep Ryan Sims as a veteran presence at DT, making Moore expendable. Again, Pressley gets the spot if they keep 2 FB.