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The Bucs, position by position

The Bucs entered last week $61 million under the salary cap. And on the first day of free agency Friday, they landed Pro Bowl TE Kellen Winslow from the Browns — in a trade. Although the Bucs haven't made a splash with any big free agent signings, GM Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris have about seven months to make some improvements. In the meantime, we break down how the Bucs look now:

Offense

QB

Luke McCown,Brian Griese, Josh Johnson

Luke McCown, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal, has the inside track for the starting job. But he is 1-6 as a starter and threw only one pass in a regular-season game last year. That's one more than Josh Johnson, who was a rookie in '08. Tampa Bay failed in an effort to trade for Matt Cassel, who went from the Patriots to Chiefs. Now the Bucs likely will sign a veteran such as J.P. Losman or Byron Leftwich. Drafting a quarterback such as Josh Freeman is probably not in the plan.

RB/FB

RB Earnest Graham, FB B.J. Askew,Clifton Smith, Cadillac Williams

Earnest Graham is coming off a high ankle sprain, and Cadillac Williams suffered his second torn ACL in as many seasons, although his recovery is said to be ahead of schedule. Williams still probably won't be ready until midseason. Clifton Smith, named to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner during his rookie season, will get a shot to take over Warrick Dunn's role as a third-down back. Trading for Raiders RB Michael Bush has been discussed. The Bucs likely will draft a few running backs and need another fullback to back up B.J. Askew.

WR

Antonio Bryant, Maurice Stovall,Brian Clark, Dexter Jackson, Kelly Campbell

Antonio Bryant returns after leading the club with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns, good enough to be designated the team's franchise player and earn $9.88 million in '09. Michael Clayton is doing the free agent tour in Detroit and Seattle. The Bucs want him back, but at what price? Dexter Jackson received no real playing time at wideout as a rookie. Tampa Bay has nibbled at the Steelers' Nate Washington and the Saints' Devery Henderson. The Bucs might want to target a wideout in the middle rounds of the draft.

TE

Kellen Winslow,John Gilmore, Alex Smith, Jason Pociask

The troubled but talented Kellen Winslow is a beast when he's healthy. He's third in receptions and fourth in receiving yardage among tight ends since 2006. If his knee is right, pencil in 80 catches for Winslow. John Gilmore will handle the blocking duties in run sets. Alex Smith has to battle for playing time.

Defense

DL

DE Gaines Adams, DT Chris Hovan,DE Stylez G. White, DT Ryan Sims, DT Greg Peterson, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, DT Chris Bradwell, DE Louis Holmes, DT Dre Moore

There will be plenty of tinkering at this position. The Bucs have expressed a desire to add more bulk at defensive tackle, and that was reflected in their decision to re-sign Ryan Sims and by their interest in Packers free agent Colin Cole. Veteran free agent DE Kevin Carter is someone the team has interest in retaining, even if he isn't a priority at the moment.

LB

MLB Barrett Ruud, OLB Quincy Black, OLB Geno Hayes, Adam Hayward, Jamall Johnson, Matt McCoy, Rod Wilson

This was a position where there figured to be great stability heading into 2009. But with Derrick Brooks and Cato June released Wednesday, everything changes. The Bucs have made it clear they want to take a long look at the likes of Quincy Black, Adam Hayward and Geno Hayes, all drafted since 2007. But this is a position to watch. Tampa Bay already has attempted to acquire the Saints' Jonathan Vilma in free agency (he re-signed). The draft will be key for this unit.

DB

CB Aqib Talib, FS Tanard Jackson,CB Ronde Barber, SS Sabby Piscitelli, CB Elbert Mack, S Will Allen, CB Kyle Arrington, CB Torrie Cox, CB Greg Fassitt, S Donte Nicholson

Free agency will affect this group significantly. Free agent CB Phillip Buchanon is central to the team's intentions to use primarily man-to-man pass coverage, but the sides haven't come to an agreement. And Jermaine Phillips remains unsigned, too. Ronde Barber, the quint­essential zone corner, could well be relegated to a nickel role this season, in part because of age and because of the change in scheme. Sabby Piscitelli likely takes over if Phillips departs.

The Bucs, position by position 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 11:13pm]
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