Head Coach Jon Gruden has seen enough on the practice field to give him confidence in his shuffled offensive unit
It's as simple as this: The question of how good the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense is will not be answered in preseason games, on the practice field or in Jon Gruden's post-practice press conferences. The first really substantial evidence will be provided Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C.
Of course, the question will still be asked in the days leading up to Sunday's regular-season opener, and the Bucs have expressed confidence in what they've been able to put together. Tampa Bay players and coaches believe they have the makings of an explosive offense; Washington's aggressive defense will provide a page on which to write the proof.
"Well, we're confident," said Gruden. "Obviously, we've got some players who haven't played much in the preseason, and some guys were injured a little bit, but we've had two good practices yesterday and today. We're excited; we really are. We've got a great challenge. This [Washington] defense already has two shutouts in the preseason. It's a pressure defense, and a very talented one. They've added Shawn Springs and made some changes in their alignments and their fronts. The nature in which they play will be a challenge for us."
The Bucs have certainly shown signs of fielding a top-10 defense for the eighth year in a row, and it's reasonable to believe, given the preseason evidence, that the team will be significantly improved on special teams. That could leave the fate of the Bucs' season in the answer to that question above.
The Bucs finished 10th in total yardage on offense last year, but still didn't feel as if they were getting a good enough running game or posing enough of a threat in the deep-passing department. Enter Charlie Garner, Joey Galloway, Tim Brown, Jamel White, Michael Clayton and a largely revamped offensive line. With so many new faces on offense, coupled with a string of injuries that made it tough to get everybody together until late in the preseason, the Bucs haven't yet done much to clear up the mystery of their attack. Most of the evidence has been good, but it hasn't been particularly deep.
Still, Brad Johnson is confident, believing Buc fans are about to discover a whole new set of players to enjoy.
"This is the first time a lot of people will see Derrick Deese and Joey Galloway," said Johnson. "Again, it's a new beginning for us, and as time goes on people will begin to know who a lot of these new players are for the Bucs. I'm very comfortable with the players we have."
Johnson should find working with Garner a pleasure, giving the back's outstanding work as a receiver out of the backfield. The former Raider, 49er and Eagle has averaged 67 receptions per season over the past five years. He will be particularly important during the first three weeks as the Bucs' deal with the absence of Michael Pittman, serving a three-game suspension. But Garner is like many of the new additions in that he saw very limited time during the preseason.
"He's been a great back the last four or five years, particularly rushing and receiving," said Gruden. "I think he's going to be a real good addition to us. We're looking forward to combining him with Michael Pittman, honestly, but for the time being we're going to have to lean on [Mike] Alstott and we're going to have to lean on Garner and certainly Greg Comella and Jamel White. But we're excited to see where he is as a football player and what he brings to us."
That last statement could also apply to Brown, Galloway, White, Matt Stinchcomb, Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie. Those men have run routes, blocked and sought running lanes together quite often on the practice field. Now it's time to prove, under the lights of the regular season, that the offense is as promising as the Bucs believe it is.
"I've been looking forward to this for some time," said Gruden. "We need to play. It's time to go. We've had training camp long enough, we've had plenty of OTAs, now it's time to go play. I'm certainly looking forward to competing with the Redskins in their stadium. It's a great atmosphere to start the season in."