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How do the Bucs look at each position?

If it's true there's strength in numbers, quarterback will not be the Bucs' weakest link. Far from it. There are five signal-callers on the roster, a list that still includes Chris Simms but hasn't made room for the leader of the Pack. The Bucs report to training camp Friday, so some roster tweaking is in order since NFL teams are limited to 80 players. Starter Jeff Garcia led the Bucs to the playoffs and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl last season. But how does the position stack up against the club's other offensive and defensive units? Five footballs serve as the highest rating.

Quarterback

At 38, Garcia is the only guy the Bucs want talking in their huddle. Of course, that could change if Brett Favre is released or traded by the Packers.

Garcia is in a snit over his contract, which expires at the end of the season. And his head-first slides could result in more injuries. But he is an efficient winner who has taken three teams to the postseason.

To hedge their bets, the Bucs traded with the Bears for Brian Griese, who will compete with Luke McCown for No. 2. Rookie Josh Johnson will have what amounts to a redshirt year. Simms will report if he's not traded or released by Friday.

Rating: Four footballs

Running back

The Bucs might have the NFL's best running back tandem of the year. If the year was 2002.

That's when Warrick Dunn was entering his prime with the Falcons (927 yards, seven touchdowns) and Michael Bennett rushed into the Pro Bowl (1,296 yards). Dunn is 33 and Bennett has never rushed for more than 473 yards in a season since his magical '02. But Jon Gruden doesn't check birth certificates. Dunn still has tread left after 10,000 career rushing yards. Bennett will benefit from an offseason in Tampa Bay. We still haven't mentioned Earnest Graham, who earned a rich deal after 898 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Fullback B.J. Askew and a young offensive line will pave the way.

Rating: Three footballs

Receiver/tight end

Joey Galloway turns 37 in November, but he still scorches the turf. After three 1,000-yard seasons, why should '08 be any different? He will need help. The Bucs didn't collect many new targets. Antonio Bryant is the impact free agent. Second-round pick Dexter Jackson is a burner, but mostly a kick returner. Michael Clayton has just one touchdown since his rookie season. Maurice Stovall struggles to get separation. That leaves reliable Ike Hilliard to play a bigger role than he should. A strong tight end unit elevates the grade, with Ben Troupe joining Alex Smith and Jerramy Stevens. But the Bucs didn't do enough.

Rating: Two footballs

Offensive line

Saints free-agent center Jeff Faine has been added to what is arguably the strongest unit. He is Pro Bowl quality to go with four other guys who could earn multiple trips to Hawaii in their careers: guards Davin Joseph, Arron Sears and tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Luke Petitgout reclaims the left tackle spot from Donald Penn, Garcia will have more time to pat the ball.

Rating: Four footballs

Defensive line

If Gaines Adams, who had six sacks and eight starts last season, improves the way Mario Williams did in his sophomore season with the Texans, watch out. Jovan Haye is underrated, playing the three technique at defensive tackle with 97 tackles and four fumbles recovered to go with six sacks in '07. Chris Hovan could get more heat on the quarterback but plays with heart. Kevin Carter and Greg White, who led the team with eight sacks, battle it out at left defensive end.

Rating: Three and a half footballs

Linebackers

One day it's bound to happen. Derrick Brooks will surrender his weakside spot to Cato June. Not today. Brooks still is the leader of the defense, though middle linebacker Barrett Ruud edged him for the club lead in tackles last season. It'll be interesting to see what June can accomplish in his second year with the Bucs. Will he spend more time on the field during passing downs? Stay tuned.

Rating: Four footballs

Defensive backs

Aqib Talib is a great talent and one of the biggest cornerbacks the Bucs have had. He will be a differencemaker. Look for Talib to start at nickel back and eventually replace Phillip Buchanon at right cornerback. Ronde Barber says he has two years left in his knees. Jermaine Phillips is entering a contract year after leading the club with four interceptions. Was there a better rookie steal than Tenard Jackson in '07?

Rating: Four footballs

Special teams

Jackson needs to generate some action as the kickoff returner. Michael Spurlock should still never pay for a drink in the bay area after becoming the first Buc to return a kickoff for a touchdown in a regular-season game. PK Matt Bryant and punter Josh Bidwell are as good as any kicking tandem in the league. If Jackson justifies his second-round status, they could be special.

Rating: Three and a half footballs

How do the Bucs look at each position? 07/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 3:15pm]

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