The Bucs won their opening preseason game in front of an excited big home crowd. The fans were charged up for football season and having Alstott run out of the tunnel in his jersey and jeans on seemed to pump everyone up from the get go. Although the Bucs got a win, there are still big questions that need to be answered before the start of the season if the Bucs hope to contend.
The Bucs starting offense only got to play six plays in the game. They had two drives of three and out and Jeff Garcia went 1-4 for 7 yards. I understand that Garcia is a veteran and the Bucs don't want to get him injured, but they need to let them play longer than 6 plays to get in rhythm. Gruden's offense is predicated on timing and without reps together it will be hard for the starters to develop that timing together. Gruden should take a look back to last season and watch what happened after keeping his starters out for most of the preseason. Now the Bucs could have had at least one first down had Galloway held onto a ball that hit his hands, but he dropped it and brought up fourth down. Dropped passes were a problem last year and have been something of a problem in camp.
The offensive line looked great for most of the game, which was a big question mark coming into the game. The Patriots first string defense was in the game almost until half time and the Bucs offensive line was getting a great push off the line and had great protection for Garcia and Luke McCown. Rookie second rounder Aaron Sears was very impressive starting at left guard and it looked like he never got pushed backwards. Anthony Davis, who was starting for Luke Petigout, looked much better than he did last year making plays down field as well as getting a great push. The right side looked solid with Davin Joeseph and Jeremy Trueblood continuing their development. They had one hiccup when McCown was sacked, but other than that they also had a solid game. The Bucs offensive line has been a huge problem since the Super Bowl run and has been addressed by every way imaginable, but just never seemed to get better. Although it was the first game the solid play of the O-Line was very encouraging for Bucs fans to see.
Luke McCown looked very good in his first game action since going down with a knee injury in OTA's last season. He has looked great in camp and has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff including Jon Gruden who said after the game that McCown was the best athlete on the team. McCown was 7-7 including a touchdown pass to Paris Warren in the second quarter. He was able to move around in the pocket and make some runs when he had to, which showed his knee is fully healed. McCown showed good decision making and his arm off at times. While McCown had a good game, it was against corners who were playing off of the wide outs for most of the time he was in there.
Kenneth Darby had a great game running the football and is making a bid for more playing time in the future. Darby was drafted in the last round of the draft after having a horrible senior year at Alabama and running a slow speed at one of the combines. Darby, the second leading rusher in Alabama history, had a great Junior season, but after his father went ill before his senior year he struggled and just could get it going. Gruden talked with many of the SEC coaches and all told him that Darby is a guy you want on your team. Darby has looked good in camp and if he keeps it up in the preseason he may get some reps during the regular season. He showed great vision for a rookie running back and hit the hole with authority, which was something he failed to do his senior season.
Outside of Paris Warren, the receiving core did not look good. David Boston started over second year man Maurice Stovall, but neither one looked impressive in the game. Stovall and Boston have looked good in camp, but neither did anything to stand out in the game agains the Pats. For the Bucs to be successful they will need to get better production out of their receivers than they did last year.
The starters played most of the first half and looked good in the first two drives against the Patriots starters, but gave up a long eight minute drive to the Pats after Brady was removed from the game. The Bucs did not get much penetration all night from the front four and only got one sack. Fourth overall pick Gaines Adams saw little time with the starters, but did get a pass break up that got everyone excited. After the first team was removed from the game Adams played almost the rest of the game, but was manhandled pretty well by the Patriots offensive line. Adams has a lot of learning to do and will need more reps going forward if the Bucs want him to be effective this year.
Ryan Nece and Antoine Cash did not have a good game at middle linebacker and were getting run over. Barrett Ruud missed the game with a knee bruise and it is imperative that the Bucs get him back to see if he can take over for Quarles in the middle. Right now if Ruud can't get it done the Bucs may be in for a long season in the middle. The Bucs were horrible against the run last year and in this game they were susceptible to the power run up the middle just like last season. If the Bucs do not get the tackling they need from the linebackers and safeties it will be another bad year for the defense.
Second year corner Alan Zemaitis looked outstanding last night in coverage and in run help. He offers up some physicality from the corner position and is a solid tackler. Zemaitis was inactive all of last year for the Bucs, but has looked better and better in camp and showed some great stuff out there last night. With Phillip Buchanon firmly entrenched in the nickle corner spot, Zemaitis is fighting for the fourth corner spot with Torrie Cox, who will miss the first four games of the season four violating the leagues substance abuse policy. Cox may have given Zemaitis the time he needs to show what he can do and overtake Cox for that final spot. Rookie safety Tanard Jackson also made some great plays not only in the secondary, but also on special teams. Jackson who can play corner or safety is a great tackler and showed some intensity out there that had been missing on the defense.
Overall the game was a success because of the win, but I am not ready to dub them playoff contenders yet like many others have. The Bucs still have some things to work on in camp and Gruden should learn to let his starters stay in the game longer. It was impressive to see the offensive line dominate like they did and hopefully that will continue into the year.