New Buccaneer LB Leon Joe was a special teams standout in Chicago
Taking the approach of nearly every team in the National Football League, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have shown only a fraction of their offensive capability this preseason. Still, based on what Head Coach Jon Gruden has chosen to reveal in his team's three games, this year's version of the Buccaneers' offense looks vastly different from last season's.
Most noticeable are the many spread formations through which Gruden has utilized three wide receivers. Those formations, Gruden said, have come about largely due to improved play up front. Without the need to keep an extra tight end or running back on the field for pass protection, the Buccaneers have been able to be more aggressive in their passing attack.
"We got 30 snaps of three receivers the last two weeks," Gruden said. "I don't know that we had that much in the last year-and-a-half around here. [Luke] Petitgout is a real pro football player, and Arron Sears has really got our attention. Davin Joseph is going to be stellar in there at right guard, and Jeremy Trueblood has improved. So we like some of the things upfront."
Of course, the other factor in Gruden's opting to implement more spread formations is the play of his quarterbacks. The team's starter, Jeff Garcia has at times looked masterful commanding Gruden's complex offense, drawing praise from his head coach for his decision making and ability to keep plays alive.
The Bucs' backup signal callers have also fared well. Luke McCown has been solid in his return from a knee injury, and Bruce Gradkowski has shown significant improvement this preseason in regard to his decision-making and command of the offense. Together, Bucs quarterbacks have combined for a 93.8 passer rating this preseason.
"He's just on time," said Gruden, commenting on the improvement he's seen from Gradkowski. "He's not late with his throws. He's not late with his decisions. His recognition is better. His overall command is twice what it was last year. And with that, comes a little bit more personality. He doesn't have his head in that steel bucket, throwing up like he did last year. He's composed. He was outstanding again today on the practice field in the two-minute [drill]. He's doing some really good things."
All of that has Gruden feeling good about his offense, and it's likely the head coach known for his offensive innovation will continue to tinker with the unit as long as his players consistently respond.
"We're making a lot of strides offensively, up front in particular," Gruden said. "We had a good game [in Miami], I thought – a very physical game we played up front. The pass protection is much better than it's been around here. We still have a ways to go to get it where we want it, but there were some real positives. Garcia made some plays. Gradkowski made some plays. I was pleased with a lot of things that we did passing the football. And once we established that we could throw it with some success, we ran the ball with, at times, authority."
Roster Moves Include Claiming of LB Joe
After trimming their roster by nine players Monday, the Buccaneers completed the first wave of roster cuts Tuesday, releasing punter Sean Douglas and placing tight end Matt Herian and guard Jeb Terry on the team's injured reserve list.
The series of moves opened up an additional roster spot, which the team used to claim linebacker Leon Joe off waivers from the Chicago Bears.
The Buccaneers have now reduced their roster to 75 players, as league rules required teams to do by 4:00 p.m. Tuesday.
The 6-1, 235-pound Joe originally entered the league as a fourth-round selection of Chicago in the 2004 NFL Draft. He actually finished his rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals but then returned to the Bears in 2005.
In three NFL seasons, Joe has played in 27 games, including nine last year with Chicago. A standout on special teams, he had 31 kick-coverage tackles over the past two years with the Bears, third best on the team in that span. He saw limited playing time on defense in 2006, after playing more extensively in 2005, with 14 games, one start and 18 tackles. Joe will line up at middle linebacker for the Buccaneers.
Terry, who was entering his fourth season with the Bucs, was placed on injured reserve as a result of an ankle injury he suffered two weeks ago against Jacksonville. Joining Terry on the reserve list is Herian, who attended training camp with the team this summer and was originally signed by the Buccaneers this past May as one of 10 undrafted free agents.
Douglas, another undrafted free agent, was signed by the Buccaneers in June and also attended training camp with Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers entered this week with 86 players on the roster. On Saturday, the Bucs will have to reduce the roster again, this time by 22 players, in order to reach the regular-season limit of 53 players.
This One Counts, Too
It's a known fact. For most teams, the penultimate game of the preseason is a full dress rehearsal that comes closest to resembling the shape of the team for the upcoming regular season.
The fourth and final game of the preseason, however, is a little different.
It's not uncommon for starters to see only a series of action if they enter the game at all, as most teams prefer to rest those players in preparation for the first regular-season game.
Coaches, however, hardly take the game off. With a large roster cut right around the corner, the final game of the preseason represents one final opportunity for coaches to evaluate players in a live game setting.
Buccaneers coaches will certainly be busy in that regard Thursday night when Tampa Bay takes on the Houston Texans to close out the preseason. While Gruden has yet to officially indicate how much action the starters will see against the Texans, he did say that he and his staff plan on using the game to help them in their decisions concerning the team's roster.
"There are some guys who won't play, and there are a lot of guys who will play extensively," Gruden said. "When you get to this stage of the preseason it's an opportunity for a guy to get one final opportunity to earn a right to be on our football team, and I'm sure Houston and a lot of teams in the league look at it that way.
"We're certainly looking at A, an opportunity to get a lot of guys playing experience in games that might not be starters when we play at Seattle. And secondly we're looking for guys who are good enough to play in the NFL and play on our football team, so we'll use this as an opportunity to get some questions answered."