Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Central Issues

Our advance scout spent another week in the Midwest, eyeing a pair of NFC Central teams

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Lions RB James Stewart should find more success when Detroit's massive offensive line gels

Realignment might eventually move Tampa Bay out of the NFC Central, but for now, the Bucs are the distant Southern cousins of a quartet of middle America teams. That means a lot of trips to Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin for the Buccaneers' advance scouts.

This week, our scout was in Motown, watching the Detroit Lions play host to the Green Bay Packers. While the visit could have been instructional on both squads, the primary focus was the Lions, Tampa Bay's next opponent.

As usual, we've spoken with the Bucs' scout for some nuggets on the team's next opponent. This information, and much more, will be included in a detailed scouting report for the entire team. Here is some of what he saw.

· Overall, the Lions are playing about as well as they were three weeks ago when the Buccaneers visited. That could be considered good news, since Tampa Bay won that game 31-10, but Detroit is 4-2 and have played well as a whole. · Guard Stockar McDougle, the Lions' first-round draft choice and one of a very few rookies to be making an impact for Detroit, is still injured and hasn't played since before the Bucs visited. That's a tough blow to the Lions, who are in the process of building a massive offensive line. In fact, our scouts believe Detroit will have the biggest offensive line in football when all of the players are healthy. · One player having a good season but getting little attention is WR Johnnie Morton. According to our scout, Morton plays well every year but puts up his numbers quietly, as most league observers are focused on big receivers such as Morton's teammate, Germane Crowell. · Kicker Jason Hanson, annually one of the league's most consistent kickers, went through a tough stretch for two weeks, missing three of four field goals at one point. However, Hanson appeared to have his problems straightened out last week and is back on track, in our scout's eyes. · Running back James Stewart may be the player most affected by the Lions' injuries on the offensive line. Stewart is a power guy, not really a finesse runner, and he needs clear lanes to rack up the kind of numbers he was known for in Jacksonville. Detroit is likely to get it's running game in shape eventually (the team average is 76.7 yards per game), but not before the offensive line gels. · Hard-hitting safety Ron Rice sat out the Green Bay game with a stinger, but should be back in time to face the Buccaneers next Thursday.

Rice and the Lions will have a little extra time to rest before facing the Buccaneers, as both teams have a bye this coming Sunday. That also means a weekend off the Midwest trail for our advance scout.

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