If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl XXXVII
victory wasn't already a distant memory during the team's 7-9 season of 2003, it certainly is now. Many of the prominent faces on that highlight video
- Warren Sapp, Keyshawn Johnson, John Lynch, and now, likely Keenan McCardell - won't be suiting up for the Bucs just two years later. Sapp hit the
free agent market, Lynch was released, Johnson was traded after a well-publicized de-activation in the middle of last season, and McCardell has
threatened to sit out the year due to a contract dispute. However, injuries and lacklustre play led to the Buccaneers' losing record last season, and
changes have been made for 2004.
On offense, receiver Keyshawn Johnson was traded to Dallas for receiver Joey Galloway, who the team hopes will create space for Keenan McCardell, Joe
Jurevicius, and first-round draft pick Michael Clayton. A knee injury limited Jurevicius' playing time last season, and the team hopes he can return
to health. Quarterback Brad Johnson had a mediocre 2003, and new backup Brian Griese may get a look if Johnson struggles. Charlie Garner remains the
team's top running back, but the offensive line in front of him has been rebuilt. Gone from the defense are safety John Lynch and tackle Warren Sapp,
but the unit, which ranked 5th in the league last season, remains strong. Defensive standouts include linemen Anthony McFarland and Simeon Rice,
linebacker Derrick Brooks, and cornerbacks Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber.
Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks
WR Tim Brown, WR Joey Galloway, WR Michael Clayton, OT Derrick Deese, OT Matt Stinchcomb, RB Charlie Garner, LB Ian Gold
DT Warren Sapp, S John Lynch, WR Keenan McCardell
Second-year QB Chris Simms appears to be the Bucs' future at the position, but, despite the fact that he has made a lot of progress since his rookie
season, head coach Jon Gruden is not yet comfortable handing him the starting job just yet. So for that reason, and the fact that Gruden runs a very
complicated offense, veteran Brad Johnson will likely be the starter as long as Tampa Bay stays in playoff contention. Gruden would like to run the
football a little more this year, and the addition of Charlie Garner should give the running game a boost, assuming he can stay healthy. He was
hampered by a knee injury in 2003, and his numbers reflected it, but if he can stay healthy, he should add some versatility to the Bucs running game.
When healthy, he has an explosiveness through the hole, and he catches the ball out of the backfield as well as anyone. It also helps that he is
familiar with Gruden, having played for him while with the Oakland Raiders.
The Bucs have a good veteran group of receivers,
and the addition of Joey Galloway gives them the deep threat they have been lacking the last couple years, but they are getting up there in age and
durability is a concern. Galloway and fellow starter Keenan McCardell, who is still holding out of training camp at the time of this report, are 32
and 34-years old respectively. Joe Jurevicius, who was penciled in as the No. 3 receiver, will turn 30 this year. And after struggling to come back
from a serious knee injury that cost him most of the 2003 season, he has been diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back that could cost him
significant playing time again this year. With the apparent loss of Jurevicius for at least a short period of time, rookie Michael Clayton could be
asked to fill the slot in multi-receiver formations and Charles Lee will cover at No. 4 until Jurevicius returns. At tight end, the Buccaneers have
three solid players in Dave Moore, Rickey Dudley, and Ken Dilger, but none has the speed needed to be a deep threat down the middle.
Tampa Bay is an unknown quantity, with different personnel in the backfield, at receiver, on both lines, and on special teams. If Gruden and Allen
truly know how to build a winner, it will show this season. What the Bucs certainly have is depth and talent at quarterback, linebacker and in the
secondary, which should translate into an improvement over last year's win total. The NFC South is mighty tough, and Gruden's club will have to win an
abundance of its key division battles if it wants to go anywhere. The smart money is on that happening, (last year marked the first losing season of
Gruden's head coaching career), with the over-under placed at about 10 wins.