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2005 preview: Bucs

Charles Robinson
Yahoo Sports
NFC South predictions
1. Atlanta
2. Carolina
3. New Orleans
4. Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head coach: Jon Gruden, fourth season
2004 record: 5-11
2004 rankings: Offense, 22nd (310.2 yards/game); Defense, fifth (284.5 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 23rd (tie)
From SportingNews.com: NFC South overview

The post-Super Bowl hangover continued for the Bucs last season, even as coach Jon Gruden began to mold the offense with his hand-selected players. But veterans such as wide receiver Tim Brown, running back Charlie Garner and wide receiver Joey Galloway struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness.

Tampa Bay began the season with a four-game losing streak and then ended it the same way. Somewhere in between, it found a few bright spots for the future in quarterback Brian Griese and rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton. Another slightly encouraging note: Eight of Tampa's 11 losses came by seven points or less.

OFFENSE

It was only one season, but the luster really faded on that "offensive genius" label attached to Gruden. But there is hope on the way.

With Clayton and Griese already in the fold, the Bucs improved two more offensive positions in the offseason, adding rookie running back Carnell Williams and tight ends Anthony Becht and Alex Smith. Though Williams and Smith have yet to play an NFL snap, both looked good in mini-camp and give the offense a shot of much-needed youth. The staff has been raving about Williams since the first time Gruden laid eyes on him.

Like last year, the offensive line enters the season shaky and unproven. It's time for players like tackles Derrick Deese and Kenyatta Walker to develop some consistency, or there could be more changes in store as the season goes along. Griese, whose play is prone to falling off as it did down the stretch last year, needs good pass protection.

Clayton had a monster rookie season, so he's going to get more attention. That means Galloway has to stay healthy and live up to his reputation for stretching the field. Tampa Bay must also hope Ike Hilliard can be more productive than last season's touchdown-less effort with the Giants.

DEFENSE

It's not the big, bad Super Bowl defense anymore, and the few elements that remain from that group are getting old. Linebacker Derrick Brooks and defensive end Simeon Rice remain the unit's two best players, with cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland not far behind.

But while Brooks, Barber and Rice continue to live up to their Pro Bowl billing, it's vital that the younger McFarland become the star the Bucs are paying him to be. Thus far, injuries have plagued McFarland two of the last three years and kept him from taking his place among the NFL's elite defensive tackles.

It will be interesting to see if defensive tackle Chris Hovan can recapture the intensity that once made him such a nasty force in Minnesota three years ago. If Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin can't get him motivated, nobody can. Even if McFarland and fellow tackle Ellis Wyms remain healthy this year, someone else has to emerge from defensive tackle to help spell the two – preferably a player who can actually stop the run.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter Josh Bidwell is solid, but there'll be a battle in camp for the kicking duties. With Martin Gramatica gone, Matt Bryant should beat out Todd France for the job.

Cornerback Torrie Cox is expected to handle kickoffs, while Galloway will handle punts. The Bucs will be looking for more explosive alternatives at both spots, but there don't seem to be many other options.

PREDICTION

The Buccaneers will finish 5-11 and fourth in the NFC South.