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The state of the Bucs

Watching Jon Gruden at the NFL owners meetings last week was reminiscent of something special teams coordinator/running backs coach Rich Bisaccia once said of the Buccaneers coach. ¶ "He's like a duck on the water," Bisaccia said. "He might appear calm, but there's always a lot going on under the surface." ¶ Free agency is sputtering to a halt. The draft is still about three weeks away, but it's not really a relaxing time for Gruden, who typically has a lot on his mind. Here's some of what he talked about.

Five beat-up Bucs

• Running back Cadillac Williams is attempting to return from a devastating knee injury. Doctors say 2006's rookie of the year needs 9-12 months to recover from a torn right patellar tendon, meaning he won't be ready for training camp. He most likely will start the season on the physically unable to return list.

• Left tackle Luke Petitgout is expected to be ready for training camp after spending most of '07 on injured reserve with an ACL tear and will compete with Donald Penn for the starting job. "I don't think he's going to participate much in the (offseason workouts)," Gruden said. "We want to get him ready to go. But he and Donald Penn give us two guys over there that are pretty good, solid players."

• Linebacker Cato June broke a bone in his foot in the final regular-season game and missed the playoffs. He could be held out of offseason workouts but should be ready for training camp.

• Receiver Maurice Stovall fractured his arm Dec. 23 at San Francisco and had elbow surgery. He will not participate in offseason workouts but should be ready for training camp.

• Receiver Joey Galloway had shoulder surgery after he was unable to finish the playoff loss to the Giants. Galloway will not do much during the offseason and could be limited in contact drills during training camp.

Five QBs who have won games for Tampa Bay

Gruden tossed this fun fact out: Five of the six quarterbacks on the roster have won games for Tampa Bay. Jake Plummer is the odd man out (for a lot of reasons). Their records, including playoffs: Jeff Garcia (8-6), Brian Griese (10-7), Chris Simms (7-9), Luke McCown (1-2), Bruce Gradkowski (3-8).

Bad Buc of the year

They're not afraid to take a flier on a player with a rap sheet. From the team that brought you failed experiments with Darrell Russell, David Boston (twice) and Jerramy Stevens, meet Antonio Bryant.

The talented but troubled receiver was arrested in 2006 for reckless driving and sentenced to one year of probation. He was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy the same year, and he has had dustups with Bill Parcells in Dallas and Mike Nolan in San Francisco.

Bryant caught 40 passes for the 49ers in 2006. His best year was 2005, when he had 69 catches for 1,009 yards.

Will a fourth change of scenery turn Bryant around?

"He's had too much change of scenery," Gruden said. "He's been in Cleveland. He's been in Dallas. He's been in San Francisco and then out of the league. What do you want to do now? You're a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, and let's try to make the most of it."

Sizing up the roster

The roster limit during the offseason and training camp is 80. The Bucs are at 77, meaning they will need to release players as they sign picks.

It sounds like a lot of bodies, until you consider that the Bucs train in the heat of Central Florida. At least three or four of those players could start the season on the physically unable to perform list. Another half-dozen or so will be limited to one practice per day. There also are typically three or four players out with minor injuries.

"It's going to change the way we practice," Gruden said of the limited roster.

Midnight madness

Just a few minutes into the free-agency signing period, Gruden picked up the phone and dialed & John Gilmore?

The Bears tight end, a former sixth-round pick of the Saints, will basically play the same role as Anthony Becht.

"Is he going to be a guy we're going to use like (the Chargers') Antonio Gates or (the Giants') Jeremy Shockey? No," Gruden said. "But he's going to be in a three-point stance, and he's going to catch the football when we throw it to him. I believe that.

"And he's going to be reliable, and he's going to be tough as hell. He's going to be able to pass protect. We'll be able to use him in a lot of different roles. He's a fun guy to have around."

Back for seconds

The Bucs will begin their draft meetings this week. Regardless of which players they select, it's an important exercise. Why? Because in a few years, a lot of the players they study are likely to become available via free agency.

Case in point: Five of the Bucs' free-agent signees were second-round picks, meaning they were scouted extensively coming out of college: receiver Antonio Bryant (Cowboys), linebacker Teddy Lehman (Lions), linebacker Matt McCoy (Eagles), cornerback Eugene Wilson (Patriots) and tight end Ben Troupe (Titans).

Rick Stroud can be reached at

Best free-agent signing?

It could be Patriots safety Eugene Wilson. The Bucs have moved him to cornerback, a position they believe he is better suited for in the Tampa 2 defense. With Brian Kelly gone to the Lions via free agency, the Bucs need another corner to step up and allow Ronde Barber to continue to be effective in the slot on three-receiver sets. "(Wilson) was a hell of a corner at Illinois; led the nation in passes defensed," Gruden said. "He got drafted by New England, and they made him a safety. If we'd have drafted him, he would've played corner. So we're going to move him back to corner."

Earn-it Graham award

This year's Earnest Graham could be Paris Warren.

Before he dislocated his ankle while catching a touchdown in 2007's final game, Warren was the Bucs' most productive receiver during the preseason.

Gruden says he learned his lesson with Graham. The seldom-used running back rushed for 898 yards after being pressed into service last season.

"Paris Warren is an interesting guy, too," Gruden said. "He has (six) touchdowns in (eight) preseason games. You go back and watch it and say, 'You know, he may be our go-to guy this year. He's beaten this guy. He's beaten that guy.'

"It took me three years to figure Earnest out. When you watch the preseason game & what do we have the preseason games for? There goes Earnest Graham. It's a preseason game. Put him in a regular-season game, and it's, 'You know what? I'm an idiot.' Maybe Paris Warren needs to play."

The state of the Bucs 04/05/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 13, 2008 11:56am]
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