Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Catch Me If You Can

A handful of Buccaneers will enter 2006 with a chance to establish new team records or move up the all-time franchise lists…Here’s a rundown of the best pursuits

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CB Ronde Barber had eight interceptions in 2004-05 and needs three more in 2006 to tie the Bucs' all-time record

Guess who's breathing down Paul Gruber's neck.

Need more info?

Paul Gruber is one of the most accomplished players in Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise history. A first-round pick in 1988, he became the teams' starting left tackle for more than a decade before retiring after the 1999 season. During his 11 years as a Buccaneer, Gruber both played in and started a total of 183 games.

That makes Gruber, in one sense, the ultimate Buccaneer. No player has put Tampa Bay's uniform on more times than this taciturn lineman (both orange and pewter in his case), and no player has played the game's opening snap as often.

Yet.

As we mentioned, someone's breath is hot on Gruber's nape. If you guessed Derrick Brooks, you get only partial credit.

By the end of the 2006 season, Gruber is likely to be bumped off the top of both lists. However, Brooks isn't necessarily going to do all of the bumping. Here are the top three players on both charts in team history:

**Player****Seasons****Games****Player****Seasons****Starts**
Paul Gruber'88-99183Paul Gruber'88-99183
Dave Moore'92-01; 04-05177Derrick Brooks1995-05173
Derrick Brooks'95-05176Tony Mayberry1990-99145

As you can see, Brooks, who has never missed a game in his 11-year NFL career and hasn't missed a start since his rookie season, has a straight shot at Gruber's record for starts. However, he's looking up at two players on the games played list. If both Brooks and Dave Moore are on the active roster when the 2006 season begins, and if both appear in each of the first seven games, Moore will get there first.

With his record of durability and his starting spot virtually assured, Brooks is a very strong bet to pass Gruber. Moore's chance to supplant his former teammate will likely hinge on his winning the team's long-snapping job once again.

There are a number of Buccaneers in a similar position, heading into the 2006 season with a chance to set new franchise records or at least make significant moves up some all-time charts. With training camp exactly two weeks away, now is the time to preview those upcoming chases.

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Category: Career Interceptions Record-holder: Donnie Abraham, 31 Record-chaser: Ronde Barber, 28

Though interceptions are far less certain of an occurrence than starts, it's still fair to like Barber's chances in this pursuit. He needs three picks to at least catch his former secondary-mate, which is two fewer than he had in 2005 and the same number he snagged in 2004. If one discounts his 1997 rookie season, in which he played in only one game, Barber has averaged 3.5 picks per season, and in some ways he seems to get better every year.

Barber would actually have two leapfrog two men in order to claim the top spot. After Abraham, former safety Cedric Brown (1976-84) stands second with 29 interceptions. Barber is tied for third with Brown's longtime teammate, cornerback Mike Washington (1976-84).

Where you will find Barber but not Abraham, Brown or Washington is one the team's all-time top 10 list in tackles. Just placing on that list is an accomplishment for a cornerback – Barber is the only corner and safety John Lynch is the only other defensive back – but he hasn't just placed. His 120 stops last year increased his career mark to 770, amazing for his position and good for sixth on the career chart. Of course, two of the five players above him are current teammates – Brooks and Shelton Quarles – but Barber could catch former linebacker Richard Wood (1976-84) with an 86-tackle campaign in '06.

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Category: Career Receptions (2nd, 3rd and 4th place) Record-holders: Mark Carrier, 321; Keyshawn Johnson, 298; Kevin House, 286 Record-chaser: Mike Alstott, 284

In our recent column on Mike Alstott's remaining passion for the game, we conjectured that the veteran fullback is not driven by statistics or record-book milestones.

That is likely true, but it doesn't mean he won't be chasing a few more significant marks in his 11th season, whether he needs to or not. Alstott already owns the team's all-time touchdowns record (68) and needs just three more points to move past Donald Igwebuike (416) into third place on the career scoring chart. He is also second in team history in rushing yards, with 4,917, though it would require his first career 1,000-yard season to surpass James Wilder (5,957) at the top.

It is on the list of all-time Buc pass-catchers that Alstott could make his biggest move in 2006. As the chart above indicates, he heads into the season in fifth place on that list, but he is within striking distance of three of the men ahead of him. Wilder, with 430 career receptions, is far and away the leader.

Alstott needs only three receptions to pass House, which is obviously a good bet. Once there, he would need 12 more, or 15 total, to reel in Johnson. If Alstott get to that mark, 299 catches, he would have to grab 23 more, or 38 total on the season, to catch Carrier and put running backs 1-2 on the list.

Alstott has had at least three receptions in each of his first 10 seasons, and at least 12 in all but the 2003 campaign, in which he played only four games before landing on injured reserve with a neck injury. He's only surpassed 38 receptions on one occasion, his 65-catch rookie season, but he had back-to-back 35-catch seasons as recently as 2001-02.

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Category: Career Sacks Record-holder: Lee Roy Selmon, 78.5 Record-chaser: Simeon Rice, 67.5

Right on the heels of another pursuit that ran out of gas right on his doorstep, here comes another one for Selmon.

Selmon has held the team's career sack record for virtually the entire history of the franchise, and he topped it off at 78.5 at the end of his playing days in 1984. It went largely unassailed until the arrival of Warren Sapp in 1995.

Sapp came at Selmon's record hard, following a relatively slow rookie start of three sacks with a five-year span in which he amassed 55.5 QB takedowns. In the process, Sapp took Selmon's single-season mark by recording 16.5 sacks in 2000. However, Sapp's final three season totals in Tampa were 6.0, 7.5 and 5.0, and that left him just shy of Selmon's overall standard. Sapp finished his Buc career with 77.0 sacks, just two shy of ownership of the record, and moved on to the Oakland Raiders in 2004.

Selmon's mark may not withstand Simeon Rice, however.

Rice arrived in Tampa in 2001 and has been dropping opposing passers at a league-leading clip ever since. Rice has had at least 11 sacks in each of his five Buccaneer seasons, and at least 14 in three of those campaigns, including last year.

All told, Rice has 67.5 sacks as a Buccaneer, and 119 total including his five seasons in Arizona. He has hit double digits in sack totals in eight of his 10 years. Obviously, that makes him a good bet to catch Selmon, since the Hall of Famer has a lead of just 11 on Rice heading into 2006.

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Category: Single-Season Rushing Yards Record-holder: James Wilder, 1,544 in 1984 Record-chaser: Cadillac Williams, 1,178 in 2005

Usually in these sorts of analyses we focus exclusively on career records, because any player who makes the roster is technically in position to set a new single-season record at the beginning of the year. Rice very well could get 17 sacks this year and break Sapp's mark. Shelton Quarles could rack up 215 tackles and break Hardy Nickerson's 1993 record in that category. Joey Galloway did haul in 10 touchdown receptions last year, a new record that wasn't prominent in anyone's predictions last September.

But Williams is a special case, because the single-season rushing record is a coveted one within any franchise's corridors, and the reigning Rookie of the Year made it clear that he is a threat to Wilder's mark last year.

It's safe to say that people will be watching from Day One to see if Williams can follow up his Buccaneer rookie rushing record with the overall single-season mark.

We have no per-season averages or projections to fall back on here, but there is room for conjecture using Williams' 2005 accomplishments. After a record-setting three-game debut in which he rushed for 434 yards and put himself on pace for 2,314 yards, Williams missed almost three games and was hampered by a foot injury for the better part of two months. He caught fire again in November and finished strong to catch the rookie record, but it's fair to wonder what he would have accomplished without losing so many midseason carries. 2,314 yards? Probably not, but he fell just 366 yards short of Wilder's mark. If Williams stays healthy for 16 games this season, could he make up those 366 yards.

Like we said, people will be watching.

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