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Offseason shopping: Bucs meet needs, so far

TAMPA — If the Bucs had to play a regular-season game today, what kind of team would they put on the field?

That's essentially the goal of free agency, for NFL teams to stockpile the roster so they can be competitive before relying too heavily on the draft.

It's especially true this offseason for the Bucs, who currently own just five draft picks.

So how did the Bucs do? Of course, the ultimate test is the regular season. But on paper, Tampa Bay has covered most of its needs.

On offense, the Bucs fortified the quarterback position by trading for Brian Griese, giving Jon Gruden another veteran backup for Jeff Garcia to go with Luke McCown, Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski. At running back, Earnest Graham has support from Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett. At tight end, Alex Smith was joined by free agents Ben Troupe of the Titans and the Bears' John Gilmore.

At receiver, the Bucs are banking on their returning players while taking a flier on another troubled but talented player in Antonio Bryant.

The offensive line has been improved with the addition of Saints free agent Jeff Faine, the league's highest-paid center after signing a 6-year, $37-million deal.

Defensively, the Bucs needed help in the secondary and got it by signing Pats free agent Eugene Wilson, who will play cornerback. They also re-signed Sammy Davis.

The biggest focus was on the defensive line, where Tampa Bay released but re-signed Kevin Carter and added free-agent defensive ends Marques Douglas and Jimmy Wilkerson. Depth at linebacker improved with the addition of Lions free agent Teddy Lehman, Bears free agent Leon Joe and Saints free agent Matt McCoy. There is more to be done, like adding depth at fullback and more help at defensive tackle.

But the Bucs could be a more explosive team with a chance to put more pressure on the quarterback today than the one that lost to the Giants in the NFC wild-card game.

QB OR NOT QB: The Bucs had five players begin quarterback orientation last week — Garcia, Griese, Simms, McCown and Gradkowski. Jake Plummer, still on the roster, remains retired.

But that glut of signal-callers will never stop Gruden from looking at quarterbacks. That's why the team plans to work out Michigan's Chad Henne next week. Henne will practice for the Dolphins on Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich., before visiting with Atlanta, Seattle and Tampa Bay next week.

"I've spoken to every team that needs a quarterback, and some of them, like Miami, are spending a great deal of time researching me, and I'm okay with that," Henne told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I understand what comes with playing this position."

This month, quarterback coach Greg Olson met with University of San Diego signal-caller Josh Johnson.

WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS ORLEANS: Faine arrived in New Orleans from the Cleveland Browns about the time Hurricane Katrina had left the city in shambles.

"When I first got there I think the count was 25 streetlights working," Faine said. "You'd hit a street and the police were so busy with everything else that you go down the main drag at 100 mph and there would be no issues or streetlights or whatever. I lived right downtown in a penthouse condo and I'd look out when I first moved in and it was darkness.

"It was creepy. It was different at first. But once everything got going, New Orleans is a special city. I am going to miss New Orleans. It's a fun city, a lot of character."

RICE REALITY SHOW: Simeon Rice has never been camera shy, which might explain why a television production crew is filming his comeback attempt as part of a possible reality TV series.

Rice, 34, is second only to Michael Strahan among active sack leaders with 121. But a shoulder injury he sustained in 2006 forced him to be released by three teams last season — the Bucs, Broncos and Colts.

Last week, Rice told me his shoulder is now "100 percent," although he would run for scouts only during the University of Illinois pro day.

Rice has an interest in filmmaking and said, "I want to show people what happens to an athlete who has been on top of his sport, gone to Pro Bowls, won Super Bowls, and now finds himself having fallen from grace.

"I want them to see the struggle for a great player to be great again."

His film project aside, Rice says he wants teams to know he is serious about playing this season. He has had discussions with Lions coach Rod Marinelli. But the reality is he's still looking for a team.

Offseason shopping: Bucs meet needs, so far 03/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008 8:52am]
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