Releasing veteran players offers some clues to Tampa Bay Buccaneers' bigger plan

It's going to be different around One Buc Place without Derrick Brooks roaming around, hogging the sauna and sitting in the corner locker stall. But it also is going to look different on the football field when you consider who won't be on it: linebackers Brooks and Cato June, wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, and running back Warrick Dunn — all men who played pivotal roles for Tampa Bay. So where do the Bucs go from here, especially at the three positions most affected by Wednesday's moves? The who, what, where and how isn't yet clear. But several things can be gleaned from these decisions — even if we don't know who exactly will be lining up on opening day. A look at what the Bucs might become:

Linebacker

The Bucs already had made it clear they were moving away from the Tampa 2 defense they made famous. New coordinator Jim Bates plans to ask his cornerbacks to play more bump-and-run coverage, rather than the zone-heavy coverage under Monte Kiffin. They also appear primed to get bigger in the interior defensive line, with linemen lining up in front of offensive linemen rather than in the gaps. With Wednesday's moves, it seems the roles of the linebackers will change, too. The Bucs have long relied on smallish, fleet-footed linebackers who excel in pass coverage and are proficient at tackling in space. Brooks did that for years at weakside linebacker, and June was thought to be Brooks' replacement. Now, it appears the Bucs will give a look to reserves Quincy Black (top), Adam Hayward (bottom) and Geno Hayes, all of whom have been drafted since 2007. Barrett Ruud, who seems more adaptable, will continue to play in the middle. "We believe there are players on this roster at linebacker who will be able to step up and compete for a job," general manager Mark Dominik said. But look for the Bucs also to consider acquiring linebackers — through free agency or the draft — who possess more size and are likely to be proven run-stoppers.

Running back

The Jon Gruden version of the West Coast offense is out, and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's new scheme is being ushered in. It's somewhat difficult to tell what Wednesday's moves will mean in terms of the offensive direction, but a couple of things are predictable. Jagodzinski recently emphasized his wish to unveil a "downhill" rushing attack, one that will take advantage of Earnest Graham's ability to break tackles and punish defenders. Those are not considered strengths of Dunn, who, at 5 feet 9 and 187 pounds, is more of a scat back. The position will have to be addressed in free agency or the draft, with Graham (left), who is coming off an injury, and return man Clifton Smith the only remaining healthy options. Cadillac Williams, coming off his second patellar tendon injury in two seasons, isn't expected to be a factor before midseason, at best.

Receiver

Expect the Bucs to look at more complete receivers in free agency. Aside from their age — Galloway is 37, Hilliard 32 — the receivers also lacked certain skills. Galloway was always most effective when isolated outside the hashmarks. He was not adept at running routes in traffic. Hilliard was skillful at finding holes in zone defenses and was a key contributor on third down, but he lacked breakaway speed. Their release, especially with Michael Clayton also likely to leave via free agency, was a bold move. But their impact on the field remains to be seen. "Time will tell, I think," Dominik said, "but that is our decision, and that is the direction we are headed."

Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer

Releasing veteran players offers some clues to Tampa Bay Buccaneers' bigger plan 02/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 7:25am]

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