The State Of Your Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA – Following yet another year of plummeting into mediocrity (and the worst season endured by the Buccaneers since 1991) under our fearless and determined leader, Jon Gruden, many fans and enthusiasts wonder just how far the Bucs have fallen, and how short the tightening noose looped around Gruden’s neck has become. The staff here at Lush For Life, led by this journalist and our much-publicized team of drunken chimps, will attempt to give all of you Dear Readers a “fair and balanced” account of what is going down at One Buc Place, and what to expect this upcoming season. If we tend to editorialize or succumb to a deep-seeded biased slant – which I assure you, we will – please refrain from sending us your hate mail or various ridicules that continue to accumulate into a massive pile on the L4L sports desk, and just enjoy the ride.

Though Gruden is most likely not engaged in his own personal competition with former head coach Richard Williamson as to who can be revered as the worst coach our maligned squad has witnessed, but he has a funny way of showing it. The Bucs failed to win a game versus a divisional foe in over a decade, and it is becoming more and more apparent that the once-crowned super-genius of the gridiron Gruden looks more like a 5-year old with a learning disorder who forgot to watch the Sesame Street episode when Big Bird covered the letters “X” and “O”. The 2006 team achieved yawning success, accumulating a 4-12 record, while ranking 29th in the league in total offense, and falling to 18th in defense after ranking in the top 10 every year over the past decade. The offense is inept, the defense is old, and fans still have to listen to that mind-numbing stat of never returning a kickoff for a touchdown, up to 1,825 and counting.

Problems along the Bucs’ roster are plentiful and discouraging as the team enters 2007. The Bucs’ resident quarterback of the future, Chris Simms, looked awful in the first three games before ending up on IR following an assassination attempt by the Carolina Panthers, which ended up costing him his spleen. Simms’ lack of development falls squarely on the girly shoulders of Gruden, who has never given Simms his full confidence and repeatedly throws him under the bus every chance he gets. Sixth-round draft pick Bruce Gradkowski, who Gruden attempts to turn into his rags-to-riches golden boy, didn’t fair much better, with a 3-8 record as a starter and a 65 QB rating.

The running game, which promised to build on the progress established the year before, took a graceful step back to the second-rate quality Bucs fans have come to know and love. Budding star Cadillac Williams appeared hesitant and timid in his second year, most likely because of constant negative criticism by Gruden. Constant fear of fumbling or not picking up a block can turn an infinitely gifted running back into a drugged-up grandmother with Alheimer’s and osteoporosis. Michael Pittman still has zero ability to see a running lane, and recently set a world record for the ratio of most steps taken in least ground traveled. And despite all of Steve Duemig’s and Raymond James’ audience complaints, Gruden still fails to “give it to Alstott” – not that he would perform that well, anyway.

Of all the problems, the Bucs’ main concerns heading into the off-season were to upgrade their offensive and defensive lines, since they were unable to run the ball, pass block, or provide quarterbacks with any kind of time; the D-line couldn’t stop the run or, most importantly, get pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Free agency saw the Bucs do little to improve these issues, other than the typical quick-fix moves of signing aging veterans to fill crucial roles that Gruden and GM Bruce Allen love. Free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia jumped on the Bucs’ bandwagon with a splash on the first day of free agency, and most likely will take over for Chris Simms as the starting signal caller in Week 1. This may work for a year, but will hurt the team in the long run – since Simms will be rotting on the bench with his bleach-blonde dudebro lettuce and his 800-page playbook falling off his clipboard. His progress will be stunted yet again, and most likely will end up on another team on opening day 2008. Another botched draft pick to add to your resume, Jon.

The most pressing area on the entire team – the defensive line – received their new pass-rushing weapon in the form of the washed-up, 35-year old Kevin Carter. The team traded for first round bust Ryan Sims from Kansas City, and signed a situational backup in Patrick Chukwurah from Denver. Luckily, the team drafted a stud lineman in the first round in Gaines Adams to eventually replace the aging and uninterested Simeon Rice. Adams is a fine player, but not worth of a fourth overall pick – seeing that a player like him (usually better than he is) is available every year in every draft. The team needed to get a defensive tackle to anchor their line and their Cover 2 defensive scheme. According to many reliable sources, namely defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the under tackle spot is the most important position on the entire team, and a position the team failed to address in all of free agency or the draft.

Meanwhile, the Bucs witnessed the other teams in the NFC South upgrade their rosters tremendously. The Saints, who won the division last year, signed a multitude of defensive players to shore up their suspect unit; the Falcons put together a solid draft and promise to rebound from a disappointing year; and the Carolina Panthers, the Bucs’ most hated foe and most heated rival, upgraded their areas of need in free agency and the draft, and look forward to punishing their rival who has beat them only once since 2002.

The national media has finally become wise to the growing desperation inside the Bucs’ front office. Gruden and Allen don’t have much time left to put together a winner, as dust continues to accumulate on their Lombardi Trophy, rotting away in a display case next to a Warren Sapp jersey and much brighter and happier times. Luckily, the Buccaneers have history on their side heading into this season. For every year of the NFC South’s existence, the team that was last in the division the year before won the division the following season. The future is so bright, they have to squint.



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