Sunday, August 16, 2009

Buccaneers Kick Off the 2009 Preseason

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw their first semi-meaningful action of the ’09 season on the road against the Tennessee Titans. Although they came up on the losing end of the 27-20 contest, there were more than a couple of bright spots in Raheem Morris’ coaching debut.


Byron Leftwich
Go ahead and call me biased because he’s the free agent QB I wanted the Bucs to bring in, but I think any reasonable fan would say that Leftwich had the better game. Yes, for the most part he was going against a lesser defense, but he was doing so, for the most part, with a second string offense. Leftwich showed the poise, pocket presence, and arm he’s known for.

His first pass of the game was a little behind tight end John Gilmore, but his rifle was evident. On the next play, Leftwich faked, pulling the defense to the right and then made a very strong throw back to the left, connecting with Brian Clark for a 24 yard TD. Leftwich demonstrated his poise under pressure on one play completing a short pass over the middle to Derrick Ward for 7 yards.

There were a couple of other plays that really don’t easily stand out as you watch them at game speed, but Leftwich showed the ability to calmly go through his reads and make the proper decisions. This is an area where Luke McCown has consistently struggled, and it was again on display tonight.

Leftwich almost became Tom Brady II when Jovan Haye went low on him. He shook off the hit, and on the next play, Leftwich shook off a couple defenders before going down for a loss of 17. I didn’t like the decision to hold onto the football, but I do like the toughness he showed after nearly getting taken out on the previous play. In the regular season, I’d be a bit more critical.

Cortez Hankton killed Byron’s 4th drive of the game, dropping a pass Leftwich placed where only Hankton could catch it. On his 5th and final drive of the game, Leftwich got a second chance after a personal foul by reserve DT Kevin Vickerson. Hefty Lefty proceeded to complete two passes to running back Kareem Huggins for 15 yards, setting up an impressive 51 yard first half ending FG by Mike Nugent.

Leftwich isn’t going to complete every pass he throws, but considering the lack of separation ability from the Bucs receivers, having Leftwich’s strong arm on the field may be the Bucs’ best chance of consistently putting up points.

Clifton Smith
Well, it is only the preseason, but I may (eventually) have to recant my “limit Clifton Smith’s touches” statement. Considering this team’s lack of weapons, I’ve repeatedly stated my desire to keep our Pro Bowl return man healthy and doing what he does best; give the Bucs tremendous field position. Well, Peanut looked like the Bucs’ best offensive weapon against the Titans.

The second year free agent signee just consistently makes plays. The young man turns empty plays into positive gains. 6, 10, 7, 3, 3, 5 – those were the yards gained on his touches. He brings the ideal combination of straight-ahead running and the shiftiness to shake a guy in short space to move ahead for a couple extra yards. There are zero wasted steps with this guy’s game.

It was only one outing, but I really liked the chemistry between Leftwich and Smith. Hopefully we see more of that when Leftwich draws the start next week in his homecoming against the Jags.

Sabby Piscitelli
The first defensive series of the year for the Bucs was owned by Sabby Piscitelli. The 3rd year Beaver made a nice open field tackle on slippery Chris Johnson one play after a executing a solid tackle on fat Alge Crumpler. Three plays later, Piscitelli took advantage of a sloppy Kerry Collins pass, intercepting it in the Buccaneers’ endzone.

If this is what we can come to expect from our new SS, call me enthused. It looks like Sabby’s going to have plenty of opportunities to make plays this year, given the early apparent lack of a pass rush. More importantly, I want to see him consistently complete his assignments and do the little things that the Pro Bowlers do. Great start!

Brian Clark
Aside from the touchdown reception, Clark showed his ability to go over the middle of the field, catching an early McCown pass. Clark also got the Bucs 2 more points, causing a second quarter safety when reserve TE Craig Stevens tackled him in the Titans’ endzone during a Craig Hentrich punt attempt.

I’ve mentioned, on more than one occasion, that I’m a fan of Brian Clark’s game, and the guy looks like a sure thing to make the ’09 Buccaneers. If he continues his consistent ability to make move the chains, Clark will be the Bucs’ third WR to start the year. I’ve already said that I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended the season with more catches than Michael Clayton, and he didn’t cause me to change my mind with tonight’s performance.

Stylez G. White
Like Sabby Piscitelli, Stylez G. White hauled in an errant Kerry Collins pass. On the play, White played a soft defense, staying in his zone, tipped the pass and secured it before falling to the ground. Very nice assignment execution by the veteran.

He also owned the next defensive series. On the drive that preceded the Brian Clark safety, White accounted for 15 lost Titans yards on back to back plays. First, he sacked Kerry Collins for a loss of 10 yards after Dre Moore flushed him outside. On the next play, following another solid flush by rookie Roy Miller, White was able to corral Chris Johnson for a loss of 5.

White is a guy who entered camp as a big question, but he stepped it up in game one. This needs to become a pattern.

Torrie Cox
I liked what I saw from the Miami native tonight. I’ve never been a huge supporter of his coverage skills, but Torrie did a more than admirable job against the speedy Nate Washington. He did get outrun on the play where Kenny Britt caught one between him and Will Allen for 38 yards, but you’re not going to win them all.

Dirk Johnson
The new addition yielded only 12 return yards on 5 punts; 11 of them coming on a punt coverage breakdown following a 46 yard boom by Johnson. Of his five punts, two were fair caught, two were muffed, one went for no gain, and another was returned for only one yard. Nice debut for Johnson.

Josh Johnson
I realize he’s 4th on the depth chart at this point, but don’t you have to find a way to keep a guy like Josh Johnson; especially considering the lack of explosive talent the Bucs have? What a sramble on a “blink-and-he’s-gone” QB keeper off the left side. Johnson takes it 43 yards for the score and follows that up with perfectly executed pass to Ryan Purvis for the two point conversion.

I did say there was a shot he could make the club, but it would cause the Bucs to show some cajones and cut either McCown or Leftwich. At this point, I’d say McCown would be closer to receiving a visit from the Turk, but we’re only one game into this. With a team that by all guesstimations won’t be competing for a title in ’09, why keep the loser of the Leftwich-McCown challenge? Freeman’s the future, so let’s keep Johnson and see what spark he can bring. Wildcat? Two QB on the field at the same time? I’m not saying we go all video game or anything, but it wouldn’t hurt the Bucs to get creative.

Kareem Huggins
The rookie from Hofstra may be 5th on the depth chart and fighting for spot on the practice squad, but he didn’t do anything to hurt his stock tonight. He played with a lot of aggression, fighting for positive yardage on every touch. Huggins totaled 43 yards on 9 carries (over 4.5 yards per) and caught 3 passes for 14 yards. His back-to-back receptions of Byron Leftwich passes for 8 and 7 yards set up Mike Nugent’s 1st half ending 51 yard field goal.

The only mark against Huggins on the night was a dropped pass on a 2nd and 2 from Leftwich that would have converted a first down and possibly saved Leftwich from being slammed to the ground by Vickerson on the following play. Huggins’ energy was a refreshing sight in tonight’s game. Maybe we have a new Mr. August.

Reserve Defensive Tackles
The first string guys weren't awful, but I felt the youngsters were worth mentioning. I want/need to go back and watch the game again, but in live action, I liked what I saw from both Roy Miller and Dre Moore. Did I see Kyle Moore disrupt things when he moved inside?


Luke McCown
He didn’t have an awful night, but Luke again displayed his fidgety nature and happy feet in the pocket, giving up on plays too early. Even John Lynch called him out on one play where Luke headed to the sidelines when he had Jerramy Stevens wide open downfield.

I did like his mobility and quickness to the sidelines, but he needs to do a better job of securing the football. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on the fumble where his facemask got yanked. I’m guessing he knew a penalty would be called and just flopped the ball outside. That was a sloppy play, but again, maybe he knew a penalty was / would be called. On the next play, he was flushed to the left and scrambled outside. If he continues to hold the ball so freely when running outside, he’s going to lose it on too many occasions.

I didn’t like how quickly he gave up on his reads and either checked down or headed for the sidelines. He still looks uncomfortable and indecisive, and I need to see some chemistry with at least one receiver.

Maurice Stovall & Cortez Hankton
Neither one had a single bright spot in tonight’s game. Stovall, given the starting assignment, couldn’t separate or make plays tonight, hauling in only 1 pass for 8 yards on 5 targets. Hankton was shutout on 3 targets. On his second target, Hankton not only failed to haul in the pass, but he caused an illegal formation penalty by covering up the tight end on the line of scrimmage.

The top 4 receivers at this point appear to be Bryant, Clayton, Clark, and Stroughter. I know there’s virtually nothing behind them, but Dexter Jackson, Maurice Stovall, and Cortez Hankton look like longshots for the 53 man roster. Stovall may make it due to a combination of no other viable options and his special teams play.

1st Team Defense
I didn’t like how little pressure the first unit put on Collins. He had far too much time to complete passes to Bo Scaife and Kenny Britt. Yes, the tackles did a fine job clogging Chris Johnson’s running lanes and seemed to consistently complete their assignments, but the ends weren’t getting to the QB.

I didn’t like how Barber and Mack played a 3rd and short that resulted in a Kenny Britt first down. Both were far too off on the 3rd and 2, and at first glance, there appeared to be miscommunication between them. Gotta clean that up. Ronde did follow that play with a nice unblocked, open field tackle on Chris Johnson for a loss of three. Nice to see the veteran display his fundamentally sound tackling ability.

Mack was also lucky Nate Washington couldn’t make a play on another Collins pass. Mack hung with him the whole way, but he never saw the ball. I want to see better positioning by our third corner.

Jermaine Phillips needs to work on his timing and point of attack approach, but I’m not about to get on a guy playing LB for the first time in a “meaningful game”. I can settle for a couple missed tackles at the line of scrimmage if he’s not being reckless and giving up big plays.

*Josh Freeman
I’ll throw Josh Freeman in here, but I’m really not trying to pick on the youngster who got his first bit of NFL action tonight (hence the *). He was accurate with most of his passes, but displayed the typical rookie tendencies of locking onto his primary receiver. His interception was another rookie mistake; underestimating the speed of the pro game by trying to force one outside on soft coverage. Ryan Mouton stepped in front of it and easily took it back for 6.

I did like how Freeman came back on the next series and completed his first pass to Sammie Stroughter for 20 yards. Another plus for Stroughter is that he made the catch knowing that he was going to be on the receiving end of a pretty good hit by the Titans’ defense. Freeman has a long way to go, but hopefully Leftwich or McCown does well enough as a starter that Freeman can be eased into action, say in ‘10.


Sammie Stroughter +1 / Dexter Jackson – 1
It wasn’t a huge sampling, but Stroughter was certainly the more determined return man tonight. He also showed toughness in the passing game. Jackson needs to step it up big time if he wants any shot at making the team.

Derrick Ward +1 / Earnest Graham -1
No explanation needed.


Going by tonight’s performance, I think Byron Leftwich is clearly ahead of Luke McCown in the QB battle. His 2 scoring drives vs. McCown’s 0 certainly doesn’t hurt. It was only one preseason game, but the arm strength, pocket poise, and calm reading of his progressions were the main reasons I wanted the Bucs to sign Leftwich this offseason. Hopefully he keeps it up.

The good guys didn’t score enough points in this one, but there was plenty to like from their first outing. I look for continued progress next Saturday at the Jaguars.

Go Bucs!


  1. Excellent article. I agree with every assessment. Looking forward to game to for more data!

  2. Too many dropped passes! Maybe McCown needs to line up at WR? Great read, talbuc!

  3. Solid analysis, Talbuc.

    Other points:

    1. Our DTs totally stifled the Titans running game until the 4th quarter when we were playing our dregs against their dregs.

    2. Hankton and Carter can kiss their paychecks goodbye.

    3. Sabby played smart, but Donte needs to get an inferno from Raheem.

    4. Allen is a better STeamer than a S.

    5. Ward will be our opening day starting RB. I believe the Bucs may use Earnest as RB/FB again this season.

    6. If Lefty impresses in next week's game against the Jags, I'd agree that he should be declared the season starter at QB and the rest of the preseason QB fray should be determining whether Luke stays or goes.

    7. I love Stovall on ST but he's no where close to being the receiver he should be after all the time he's spent in the big league.

    8. Geno is coming on strong.

  4. Talbuc...

    Your "Select profile" jazz is frustrating. Kill it or add a way to click on previously-posted profile.

  5. McCown and Stovall fall into the category of players that are what the eyes and tape say they are: a second to third string QB and serviceable special teams player, respectively. At some point 'what you see is what you get' (which, Talbuc, is at the heart of my disagreement with you about Matt Schaub, but let me not go to far astray)and you make plans accordingly. Part of those plans should be the eventual installation of B.L. as the starter.

    I would like to see Johnson go against minimally second teamers. I though he showed enough to warrant a shot at playing in the first half at some point in the preseason. As far as Freeman, well...I saw nothing that would make me think 'franchise quarterback', but in all fairness, that has been true about 80% of rookies that took their first snaps in preseason. Matt Stafford, I note in passing, is in the 20% grouping.

    I would like to hear what you thought of Mahan at center. The commentators noted that he was probably better suited to the zone-blocking scheme Jagz has implemented than the man-to-man favored by Gruden. And did Donald Penn look fat too you?

    Anyway, very solid job of analysis and a terrific read. Thanks for the work.


  6. wow, I need to proofread before I post.


  7. TPE,
    Make sure you think of me when Schaub's leading the NFL in passing mid-season :)

    Brian Brohm and Josh Johnson were my two favorite QBs in last year's draft, and I like what I've seen from the San Diego product in limited action as a Buc. He's having to adjust to a new system and is clearly the 4th man on the depth chart, so he's got that working against him. His only chance (IMO) is if the Bucs cut McCown. How the Bucs handle Johnson's playing time the next two games might give us an indication as to their plans for him. Like you, I’d like to see him go against real competition. If he fails, he fails, but at least you’ve given the guy a true shot. It’s no secret that he’s an athletic QB, and even though his big run was against guys who’ll be looking for work in a week or two, there’s definitely something there. He’s far from a finished product, but I’d hate to see him be cut and succeed elsewhere; especially considering the lack of playmakers on the Bucs’ roster.

    One last thing on Josh Johnson. Whenever I’ve seen him play, whether it be preseason action or in college at San Diego, he always has his head up looking at the entire field. Luke McCown (and even Jeff Garcia) struggle pretty bad with that. I think Johnson just needs reps. I love his smooth playing style and the way he seems to be ahead of the curve “poise-wise”.

    Freeman was every bit a rookie last night, but that’s exactly what I expected. I do expect more from a veteran like Luke McCown, and the constant check downs aren’t going to cut it in the NFL.

    Regarding the offensive line, I really need to go back and re-watch a lot of those drives to get a good feel for how they looked in their first action in this new scheme. I expect to see some missed assignments, but I don’t want to see a lot of heads on swivels. I also want to re-watch the Bucs’ first half defensive drives again to focus more on how the tackles were clogging lanes and occupying blockers up front. Looked pretty good from what I saw. Watching live, I was unimpressed with the ends, especially Mr. Adams, but the Bucs were able to keep Chris Johnson in check.

    Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

  8. You da man RG!

    (my comments follow yours)

    1. Our DTs totally stifled the Titans running game until the 4th quarter when we were playing our dregs against their dregs.

    Not a bad start for a “non-elite” unit learning a new scheme. Roy Miller and Dre Moore are going to be counted on this year, so a nice opening showing is inspiring.

    2. Hankton and Carter can kiss their paychecks goodbye.

    I’ve seen better play by collegiate walk-ons.

    3. Sabby played smart, but Donte needs to get an inferno from Raheem.

    Yeah, that blown assignment on the long TD won’t go on his highlight reel. Sadly, due to lack of depth at the position, he may make it by default. He’s not a rookie, nor is he new to this team. He needs to step it up.

    4. Allen is a better STeamer than a S.

    I like the physicality he brought, especially on the play he injured himself, but he is definitely a better performer on special teams than on defense.

    5. Ward will be our opening day starting RB. I believe the Bucs may use Earnest as RB/FB again this season.

    Ward hasn’t disappointed. He was a valuable part of the NFL’s leading rushing offense in ’08, and Bucs fans will be happy if he brings that with him to Tampa. If Peanut keeps it up, your scenario could play out sooner than later. I’m also eager to see how Carnell’s situation works out and how that impacts Huggins. Not bad depth at this position.

    6. If Lefty impresses in next week's game against the Jags, I'd agree that he should be declared the season starter at QB and the rest of the preseason QB fray should be determining whether Luke stays or goes.

    I think that’s a decision they need to make before the game against Miami. You want to have your starters in place prior to that second to last preseason game. IMO, it’s going to take a real flip flop this week in practice and next Saturday against the Jags for this one to turn out in McCown’s favor. Like I’ve said before, why keep the loser of the Leftwich/McCown battle? Freeman’s the future, and I’d be disappointed if the Bucs hung onto an underachieving McCown at Josh Johnson’s expense.

    7. I love Stovall on ST but he's no where close to being the receiver he should be after all the time he's spent in the big league.

    Can’t say anything more about that than you did.

    8. Geno is coming on strong.

    And isn’t it great to see! Hustle hustle hustle. It’s a shame last year’s injury derailed what was shaping up as a fine rookie season.

  9. Although it is unlikely that he actually plays enough games in the first half of the season to qualify, which is another issue entirely about the guy, I say this: If Matt Schaub is amongst the top six...hell...make it top passer rating at midseason, your first pitcher of beer at 4th Quarter B&G is on me pal.

    I wonder why no one has brought up the potential of Johnson running the wildcat. He looked plenty elusive to me against what were admittedly camp bodies. Part of this is wishful thinking on my part primarily because I have really soured on McCown. Look, I acknowledge that he didn't have his first team receivers available. My bigger issue is HE HAS NEVER DONE A THING ANYWAY, and I have increasingly come to believe he isn't even a competent backup!

    After watching Dexter Jackson in PS game 1, I was harkened back to an exchange in 'North Dallas 40'. Dabney Coleman tells Nick Nolte about some kid they just signed at his (wideout) position, pauses and asks " speak Canadian don't you?'.

  10. That works for me. He was 7th last season in 11 games. Don’t think he’s injury prone. He did have the shoulder issue, but last year’s absences were due to Jared Allen’s cheap shot. Hard to defend against that.

    Regarding Josh Johnson and the Wildcat:

    Like I said on, he wants to be thought of and treated as a QB, not some flavor of the month gimmick, and he's earned that. No, he's not ready to start, but the guy finished his collegiate career as the NCAA's all time passing efficiency leader.

    With McCown, it’s like when you’re dating a girl who’s fun to hang out with, but you know it’s really not going anywhere. Might be that time to cut bait. I just think there’s a considerable better bang for our buck by hanging onto Josh Johnson.

    Jackson might be better off a Toronto Argonaut than a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. That’s a shame because he’s a guy I wanted Tampa to draft last year. Problem is the run on receivers in round 2 caused the Bucs to really reach for him. I had him as a 4th round option. They needed a speed guy, and there weren’t many of them in the entire draft. My real beef with that pick is it meant that they passed on Brohm twice. Anyways, off topic, and don't get me started.