4 Tampa Bay Bucs

A rejuvenated Brian Griese and a new Cadillac will drive the offense, but the lanes may be clogged because of a suspect offensive line
September 04, 2005

BRIAN GRIESE arrived in Tampa last year with no expectations, and who could blame him? The previous two seasons he had made unceremonious exits from other teams--first, from Denver, where as recently as 2000 he had gone to the Pro Bowl, and then from Miami, where his father, Bob, had had a Hall of Fame career but Brian's fizzled after only five starts. With the Bucs he started the season as the third-string passer, behind starter Brad Johnson and the team's quarterback of the future, Chris Simms.

But as so often happens in life, things have a way of turning out for the best. Johnson struggled at the outset, Simms replaced him in Week 5 and promptly got hurt, then Griese took the field and went on to have his best season since his Pro Bowl year. Already familiar with the West Coast offense from his days in Denver, Griese showed quick mastery of coach Jon Gruden's playbook; he completed an NFL-best 69.3% of his passes and set a franchise record with a quarterback rating of 97.5. Last March he was rewarded with a five-year, $32 million contract.

Still, Griese talks like a man whose expectations aren't much higher than they were entering last season, even though Johnson was released in March. "In this day and age you have to prove yourself every year," he says. "The contract is nice. But at the same time, if I were to go out and fall on my face, that contract wouldn't be worth the paper it's written on." Simms, meanwhile, remains in the picture. Even after Griese's performance last year, Gruden gave Simms the start in the meaningless regular-season finale, a 12-7 loss to Arizona, and during training camp Simms was getting more snaps than Griese. "I'm glad," Griese says. "I'm 30. I need the rest."

The Bucs need Griese not only to give them a repeat of his 2004 performance--minus the occasional late-game interception--but also to provide leadership on an offense dotted with players inexperienced in Gruden's system. Gruden believes that rookie Carnell (Cadillac) Williams, the fifth pick in this year's draft, will be the electrifying runner the team hasn't had since Warrick Dunn left as a free agent in 2002. Second-year wideout Michael Clayton promises to improve on an outstanding rookie season in which he had 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. "My confidence is sky-high," Clayton says. "I'm a guy who's never satisfied. I always want to get better. My own expectations are higher than anyone else's expectations, and I'm not there yet." Joining Clayton and 11-year veteran Joey Galloway at receiver is free-agent pickup Ike Hilliard, late of the Giants. There are two new tight ends: Anthony Becht, formerly of the Jets, is an excellent blocker, and Alex Smith, a rookie third-round choice out of Stanford, can stretch the field.

The sticking point is the line, which last year allowed 44 sacks and was a big reason Tampa Bay had the 29th-ranked rushing offense. Left tackle Derrick Deese, a 14-year veteran, missed all of camp with an injured left foot, so the Bucs will have to protect Griese's blind side with Anthony Davis, an undrafted free agent who spent 2003 on the practice squad and last year made two appearances in relief. The starters at guard may be in flux as well. Matt Stinchcomb, a seven-year vet, has the most experience, but may have to give way to Dan Buenning, a rookie fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin, on the left side. Sean Mahan, a third-year player who made eight starts last season for injured center John Wade, will go at right guard. Wade has recovered from a dislocated left knee, but foreshadowing the potential for a shaky line was the re-signing of Todd Steussie on Aug. 7, just 10 days after the team had released him. A two-time Pro Bowl tackle in his salad days, Steussie, 34, was originally signed as a free agent in 2004, then had a disastrous season, which included allowing the sack that sidelined Simms.

If necessary, Griese is prepared to take the punishment. After being sacked 26 times in his 11 games last year, he spent the off-season in the most rigorous weight-lifting program of his career, adding 10 pounds of muscle. "You have to be in good physical condition to take that pounding and to be there every week and avoid injury," Griese says. "I needed to do everything I could to make sure I was in the best physical shape I could be."

He might be in for another beating, but at least this time he'll be expecting it. --B.S.

PLAYMAKER

Running back Cadillac Williams caught a pass in the flat, turned upfield and made a quick move inside that left the two defenders grasping at air. True, it was only a training camp practice, but the move by the 5'11", 217-pounder started a Did you see that? buzz and raised hopes in Tampa that the lightning-fast rookie whose 46 career touchdowns at Auburn broke Bo Jackson's school record, will bring big-play flash to an offense that could use it.

AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW
ENEMY LINES

They've added some difference-makers on offense. Cadillac Williams is a versatile back who should thrive in their offense, but the line has to somehow come together. John Wade should be O.K. at center, but Kenyatta Walker has always been a player with a lot of ability who has disappointed; he's very inconsistent. But with the type of offense that Jon Gruden runs, you can get by, because the quarterback gets the ball away so quickly.... Their defensive line could be very good again. Chris Hovan [a free-agent acquisition from the Vikings] has been very impressive. With Hovan and Booger McFarland, if he stays healthy, they have two very quick tackles. The question has always been if they are stout enough inside against the run, and teams tend to run at them.... They still have the pass rush outside, with Derrick Brooks at linebacker, but their secondary hasn't gotten back to where it was before safety John Lynch left [after the 2003 season]. Depth is a question, but Jermaine Phillips is a very talented young safety.... It's hard to say where they'll be in the division, because all four teams have a chance.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

OFFENSE

CADILLAC WILLIAMS (R) (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- RB
PVR -- 21
ATT. -- 239
YARDS -- 1,165
AVG. -- 4.9
REC. -- 21
YARDS .-- 152
AVG. .-- 7.2
TDs .-- 13

BRIAN GRIESE
POS.-- QB
PVR .-- 119
ATT. .-- 336
COMP. .-- 233
% .-- 69.3
YARDS .-- 2,632
TDs .-- 20
INT. .-- 12
RATING -- 97.5

MIKE ALSTOTT
POS. --  FB
PVR --  253
ATT. --  67
YARDS --  230
AVG. --  3.4
REC. --  29
YARDS --  202
AVG. --  7.0
TDs --  2

MATT BRYANT (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. --  K
PVR --  322
XPs MADE --  7
XPs ATT. --  7
FG MADE -- 3
FG ATT. --  3
PTS. --  16

JOEY GALLOWAY
POS. --  WR
PVR --  177
REC. --  33
YARDS --  416
TDs --  6

ANTHONY BECHT (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. --  TE
PVR --  227
REC. --  13
YARDS --  100
TDs --  1

ANTHONY DAVIS
POS. --  LT
HEIGHT --  6'4"
WEIGHT --  322
GMS. --  2
STARTS --  0

DAN BUENNING (R) (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. --  LG
HEIGHT --  6'4"
WEIGHT --  320
GMS. --  12
STARTS --  12

JOHN WADE
POS. --  C
HEIGHT --  6'5"
WEIGHT --  299
GMS. --  8
STARTS --  8

SEAN MAHAN
POS. --  RG
HEIGHT --  6'3"
WEIGHT --  301
GMS. --  16
STARTS --  8

KENYATTA WALKER
POS. --  RT
HEIGHT --  6'5"
WEIGHT --  302
GMS. --  13
STARTS -- 11

MICHAEL CLAYTON
POS. --  WR
PVR --  102
REC. --  80
YARDS -- 1,193
TDs -- 7

DEFENSE

RYAN NECE
POS. -- OLB
TACKLES -- 1
SACKS -- 0
INT. -- 1

SIMEON RICE
POS. --  RE
TACKLES --  40
SACKS --  12

ANTHONY MCFARLAND
POS. --  RT
TACKLES --  12
SACKS --  3

SHELTON QUARLES
POS. --  MLB
TACKLES --  104
SACKS --  3 1/2
INT. --  0

CHRIS HOVAN (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. --  LT
TACKLES --  20
SACKS --  1 1/2

GREG SPIRES
POS. --  LE
TACKLES --  61
SACKS --  8

DERRICK BROOKS
POS. --  OLB
TACKLES --  137
SACKS --  3
INT. --  1

BRIAN KELLY
POS. --  CB
TACKLES --  58
INT. --  4

JERMAINE PHILLIPS
POS. --  SS
TACKLES --  42
SACKS --  1
INT. --  1

DEXTER JACKSON
POS. --  FS
TACKLES --  16
SACKS --  0
INT. --  0

RONDE BARBER
POS. --  CB
TACKLES --  92
INT. --  3

JOSH BIDWELL
POS. --  P
PUNTS --  82
AVG. --  42.3

2004 RECORD: 5-11

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 29/14/22
DEFENSE 19/1/5

COACH: Jon Gruden; fourth season with Tampa Bay (62-50 in NFL)

NEW ACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
11 at Minnesota

18 BUFFALO 25 at Green Bay

OCTOBER
2 DETROIT
9 at N.Y. Jets
16 MIAMI
23 Open date
30 at San Francisco

NOVEMBER
6 CAROLINA
13 WASHINGTON
20 at Atlanta
27 CHICAGO

DECEMBER
4 at New Orleans
11 at Carolina
17 at New England (S)
24 ATLANTA (S)

JANUARY
1 NEW ORLEANS

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T18 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .492 Games against playoff teams: 6

Depth is a question in the secondary, but Jermaine Phillips is a talented young safety.

PHOTOGREG TROTT/WIREIMAGE.COM BUC UP Griese's experience in the West Coast stabilizes a shaky position in Tampa. PHOTOSTEVE NESIUS/APPHILLIPS PHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)