TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (Consensus division finish: 2nd)
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|DIVISION FINISH: 3 All you have to know about coach Jon Gruden's tenure is that he never has recorded consecutive winning seasons with the Bucs. That trend will hold true once again.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 3 The NFC South turns over division winners every year, so history says the Bucs won't repeat. Jeff Garcia was the right fit to take Jon Gruden back to the playoffs, but age at the skill positions will prevent Tampa Bay from being one of the conference's top scoring teams.
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 Brett Favre? You mean he was available? The Bucs can play dumb all they want about their interest in Favre, but they still need a quarterback.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 3 I do not think the defending NFC South champs are a playoff-caliber team right now. QB Jeff Garcia is not any younger, and this team still lacks a playmaker opposite WR Joey Galloway and has concerns at RB, where Cadillac Williams will miss the first half of the season.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 With a lot of key people getting older, the Bucs need players from the next generation -- such as Alex Smith, Gaines Adams and Aqib Talib -- to emerge as forces. A threat to repeat atop division.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 It's impossible to predict this division. You'd think the Bucs would build on last season's finish, but they're not as talented as the Saints.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 The Bucs hope to outrun Father Time one more season. Jeff Garcia, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Kevin Carter are well into their 30s in most cases.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 Jeff Garcia couldn't have been thrilled with the Brett Favre flirtation. This team has wild-card potential but should get overtaken by the Saints.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 A poor offseason has dropped the reigning NFC South champs a notch. But this team still has one of the best defenses in the conference, which will keep the Bucs in contention all season.|
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|DIVISION FINISH: 3 With Jeff Garcia, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Joey Galloway, the Bucs will set an NFL record for "veteran leadership." Good thing Earnest Graham, Alex Smith and Michael Clayton are there to balance it out.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 Brett Favre would have made the Buccaneers interesting, but Jon Gruden will just have to muddle on without him. Jeff Garcia is still a fine option. This team made the playoffs last season and will not be an easy out this season.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 This up-and-coming offensive line should ensure success on the ground. If Jeff Garcia minimizes mistakes, as he did so well a year ago, the offense will get by. On the other side of the ball, Monte Kiffin will have this group flying around the ball. Expect another top-10 defensive performance.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 3 This team needs some young stars because Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Jeff Garcia and Joey Galloway are going to slow down at some point. If it happens all at once, the Bucs could have a long season.|
||CONSENSUS DIVISION FINISH: 2 | NFL standings|
BEST OF THE BUCCANEERS
Best offensive player: Jeff Garcia.The Bucs made an unsuccessful run at Brett Favre, but they already had a Pro Bowl quarterback in Garcia. He's efficient and a perfect fit in Jon Gruden's offense.Best defensive player: Derrick Brooks. The surefire Hall of Famer is nearing the end of his career, but he is still one of the best tacklers in the league. Best playmaker: Joey Galloway. Age hasn't caught up to this speedster. Galloway works harder than just about anyone at taking care of his body, and it shows. Best clutch player: Ronde Barber. A rare threat at cornerback with more than 20 career interceptions and sacks, Barber is one of the league's smartest defensive players Best unheralded player: Chris Hovan. You don't hear this defensive tackle's name a lot, but that means he's doing his job well. Hovan is a big reason the linebackers are allowed to run free in this defense. -- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com
SCOUTS INC.'S FAB FIVE
|Scouts Inc. has evaluated and graded more than 2,400 NFL players heading into the 2008 season, giving Insiders a leg up on the competition with exclusive grades, alerts and scouting reports.|
|Top five players
1. Davin Joseph
6-3 | 313
|(Grade 81) He has excellent size for the position and is a top-level athlete who can pull, trap or fire out to make the inline block. Joseph can shuffle and slide in pass protection. He's a young, bright spot on the offensive line.|
3. Jeff Faine
6-3 | 291
|(78) He is tough, athletic and savvy. Faine's a right-handed center who can handle the shotgun snap. He has good initial quickness off the snap and into blocking patterns. He is a stabilizing influence.|
3. Tanard Jackson
6-0 | 200
|(78) He is a decent-sized safety with excellent cover skills and great ball skills. Jackson shows good ability to read the quarterback's eyes and get a jump on the ball, but still needs a lot of work on route recognition.|
4. Barrett Ruud
6-2 | 241
|(75) He is an above-average athlete for the position with good lateral range and downfield speed. Ruud is quick to locate the level of the ball and pull the trigger on plays. He is a solid starter with good upside.|
5. Derrick Brooks
6-0 | 235
|(74) He might have lost a step, or two, over the years, but he still plays the game faster than most linebackers. He is a downhill linebacker who is very quick to read, react and pull the trigger.|
|Player grading scale: Elite (90-100), outstanding (80-89), solid starter (75-79), good starter (70-74)|
SCOUTS INC.'S ANALYSIS
Everyone knows WR Joey Galloway is fast and runs deep routes, but somehow he still beats his defender on plays like this.
More best plays
RB depth: The Bucs are well-stocked in the backfield and shouldn't suffer a drop-off with Cadillac Williams (knee) beginning the season on the PUP list. With Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn able to share carries and keep one another fresh, Tampa Bay's run game should feature a nice blend of power and quickness. If Williams returns this year as anything resembling his old self, this group could be very effective late in the season.Efficient QB play: With his accuracy and mobility, Jeff Garcia was able to lead the Bucs back into the playoffs in 2007. His quick adjustment to coach Jon Gruden's complex offense and terminology was impressive. Garcia is extremely well-versed in the West Coast offense, and his varied skills -- savvy defensive reads, accurate throws and escapability against the rush -- are maddening to defensive coordinators. Preparing airtight game plans for Garcia and the Bucs is nearly impossible. Improved O-line: Tampa Bay has beefed up its front five in recent years, and the team's blocking has become more physical. LG Arron Sears and RG Davin Joseph have the toughness and body type to create movement inside. Free-agent C Jeff Faine, lured from the Saints, is a high-quality addition. LT Luke Petitgout and RT Jeremy Trueblood are adequate starters, and OT Donald Penn is a sound pass-blocker who could become a complete player if he can muscle up in the run game.
Age at key positions: The ages of Joey Galloway (36), Derrick Brooks (35), Kevin Carter (34), Ronde Barber (33), Ike Hilliard (32), Garcia (38), Dunn (33) and Petitgout (32) raise all kinds of durability and depth red flags. Each of the aforementioned players still is a productive contributor, but how much longer can that last?Wide receiver: Galloway continues to defy the aging process, but he is playing on borrowed time. Michael Clayton hasn't lived up to the promise of his rookie year. Hilliard is nifty in the slot, but he is in the same rickety boat as Galloway. Antonio Bryant could be a find, but he must prove he can stay out of trouble and buy into his role. Rookie Dexter Jackson is extremely fast but is making the jump from a small college to a complicated NFL scheme. Tight end concerns: Alex Smith, Ben Troupe and Jerramy Stevens have talent, but each has one issue or another that could arise during the season. Smith has shown a drop-off in production since his rookie year. Troupe is athletic, but he has had durability issues. Stevens seems to be almost constantly involved in off-field problems, and he faces an upcoming suspension.
-- Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles.
JEREMY GREEN'S X FACTORS
MY BEST DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR
Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks on the best defensive coordinator, Tampa Bay's Monte Kiffin:
First off, the guy has passion. To have the passion he does at his age is really tremendous. I've been fortunate to be a part of his coordinatorship since he's been here. Every year, he gets a little better at challenging himself to get better.I've played with him longer than any player in his career. That's really something special. There's a trust factor that very few players get to have with a coach. In our situation, he trusts me on the field to do a lot. At the same time, he's put a lot on me in terms of this defense. I always know what he's thinking in every situation. I know what he's thinking on X's and O's, and we're on the same page. If there's a communication breakdown, I know what he wants. When we had our run from '96 through 2002, it was the same group of 14 or 15 guys. That part was easy. I've seen the maturation come since then because we've had a lot of new players come in and we've continued to have success. He's been able to adapt. An area people forget about is the assistant coaches on defense. A lot of those guys (Herm Edwards, Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith and Mike Tomlin) have moved on, and he brings in new guys and gets them to commit to doing things his way and continue having good defenses. That gets overlooked a lot. -- As told to Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com
Photo by Larry French/Getty Images
In a vote by SportsNation, LB Derrick Brooks was selected best Buc ever. He has been named to 10 Pro Bowls in a row. Complete results
BLOGS: PRO AND FAN
Looking for more Bucs coverage? You've come to the right place. Pat Yasinskas writes about all things NFC South in his division blog.
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