Tampa Bay Buccaneers

N.O. Pregame Report: Fresh Horses to be Tested

The Bucs feel good about their roster depth and team health headed into the regular-season opener, and they're going to need all 45 men to slow down the potent Saints


Rookie WR Dexter Jackson earned a spot on the 45-man game day active list thanks to his contributions in the return game

Jovan Haye didn't play a snap during the recently-completed preseason, thanks to a groin injury suffered during training camp. Haye will be active and in the starting lineup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today, however, as they take on the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.

That's good news for the Buccaneers, who are going to need every man on defense to combat quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

"Jovan looks great," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He's really going to give us some energy on the inside, as he always has. Ryan Sims has done some good things as well, so we've got some depth inside and we're going to need it. I've got to believe that New Orleans is going to open it up and play their fast style in the dome, so we're going to need some fresh horses. Our defense has had a good preseason, and they'll be tested by a fast New Orleans team."

Haye mans the critical under tackle position in the Buccaneers' defensive front and is responsible for applying pressure on the passer up the middle. Tampa Bay needs Haye and his fellow men up front to keep the heat on Brees, who is coming off consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons. The Saints, who have ranked first and fourth, respectively, on offense the last two years, have a multitude of weapons but need Brees to have time to get them the football. Thus, the Buccaneers are going to do whatever it takes to disrupt Brees' timing, even if it means bringing extra pass-rushers.

"It all starts at quarterback; that's the key to their football team, Drew Brees," said Gruden. "We've got to get after him today to win the game.

"We want to blitz. We're not just going to sit there and rush four all day. We're going to try to mix it up and give him some looks that he can't recognize. We've got to challenge their receivers. This guy, if he has time to throw the football he's going to make a play to one of his guys. That's how good he is."

The Buccaneers will start their expected 11 on defense, thanks to Haye's return, but they will also get a lot of work out of a 12th defender, rookie cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib starts the season as the nickel back, and that's a busy spot when the Saints are on the other side of the ball.

"He should play a lot based on the fact that New Orleans plays a lot of three-receiver sets," said Gruden of the Bucs' first-round draft pick. "You'll see us in a nickel defense to combat that, and Talib will be out there. We're excited about him. Our corners have had a very good training camp and we consider our secondary a strength."

The Buccaneers do have two changes to the starting offense, one prompted by injury. With Davin Joseph sidelined by a foot injury, the Bucs will give the start at right guard to rookie third-rounder Jeremy Zuttah. In addition, newcomer Antonio Bryant has drawn the start at flanker in place of Ike Hilliard; Bryant is coming off an outstanding training camp.

In fact, the Buccaneers' receivers were strong across the board during training camp and the preseason, but the team was essentially forced to deactivate one of the six in order to get to 45 men for the game. That assignment went to Michael Clayton, as the Bucs will keep Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall active behind Bryant and Joey Galloway. Rookie wide receiver Dexter Jackson is also active, primarily to return kickoffs and punts.

The Bucs also deactivated running back Michael Bennett, who performed well in the preseason. Again, the decision is no reflection on Bennett's performance but rather a result of the difficulty in getting down to 45 active players.

"You're going to see Earnest Graham, Warrick Dunn, B.J. Askew and Byron Storer," said Gruden. "We've got to dress guys that are going to play special teams. We're going to punt the ball to Reggie Bush and we'd better cover him. We're going to try to get Earnest going and use a good amount of Warrick Dunn; that's a big enough challenge in itself, to get two backs into the game, let alone three."

The Bucs' other six inactive players are Joseph, quarterbacks Josh Johnson and Luke McCown, linebacker Geno Hayes, tackle James Lee and defensive tackle Greg Peterson. McCown is the designated third quarterback, which means he will actually dress and could be put into the game.

The Saints also named their eight inactives , and they include the usual starter at left cornerback, Mike McKenzie. Randall Gay, an offseason acquisition from the New England Patriots, will start in McKenzie's place. The other seven inactives for New Orleans are wide receiver Robert Meachem, running back Aaron Stecker, linebacker Mark Simoneau, linebacker Troy Evans, tackle Jermon Bushrod and defensive tackle Hollis Thomas.

Simoneau was the Saints' starter at middle linebacker last year, but he has ceded that spot to one of the team's main offseason pickups, former Jet Jonathan Vilma.

"New Orleans does have talent and they've made some marquee additions," said Gruden. "We've got some quality football players and we're eager to see where we are. We had a good week of practice. We had to cut the team down. We felt like we kept 53 men that are capable of winning football games. We're just going to try to play our best and this is going to be a good test for us."

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