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Bucs giving us that same old line again

Published August 20, 2006

TAMPA - The preseason, by its nature, is meant to be a tease. A glimpse of the future, a taste of what is to come.

So you watch Bruce Gradkowski running, throwing, and occasionally puking, and you imagine the fire he can bring to an offense in an emergency. You see Barrett Ruud making plays from here to there, and you suddenly feel better about life in Tampa Bay once Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles are gone.

Then you watch what is supposed to be the best offensive line the Buccaneers have owned sputter in the first quarter, and you wonder if this isn't going to be another season of slow progress.

New rule: Cadillac Williams does not play until the offensive line can guarantee his safety. Which raises the possibility of Cadillac sitting out the season.

I mean, would you feel safe behind an offensive line that moves before the snap, holds defensive tackles as they're running past, and still gets manhandled?

After being sent out for a third possession, Chris Simms had to be wondering who he ticked off to deserve such a harrowing work load. It was like a foreman being sent out on the highest girder during a thunderstorm.

The Bucs have broken camp and played half their preseason games. They have everyone healthy and the same playbook for the fifth consecutive season.

Shouldn't this offensive line be further along?

You have all five starters returning, and two high draft picks added in. You have depth, you have versatility and you have size.

So why, then, do you also have such a healthy portion of third and long?

Yes, there is still a little mixing-and-matching going on. John Wade got the start at center in the opener, and Sean Mahan took over Saturday night. Jeremy Trueblood played right tackle last week, and Kenyatta Walker and his tender knee returned against the Dolphins.

So you can understand a little uneven play. You might expect a blown assignment somewhere in the quarter.

But this was more than that. This was one pretty good drive followed by two pretty awful efforts.

Walker had a false start.

Mahan was called for holding.

Davin Joseph had a false start.

In all, there were two sacks and two passes tipped behind the line. In three possessions, there were three first downs and three points.

In the first preseason game, it seemed a blip. One shaky offensive series with a couple of rookies on the first-team offensive line. Now, it has been four possessions and not a lot of spark.

Everywhere else, coach Jon Gruden treated it like a normal preseason game. He gave Cadillac and Joey Galloway the night off. Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks and Quarles also spent the entire game on the sideline.

Simms was gone by the second quarter and so were most of the defensive starters. The offensive linemen were the only guys who had to work extra shifts.

Mahan, Joseph and Anthony Davis were still in when the third quarter began. Dan Buenning sat out the second quarter but made a return appearance to start the third. Among the starters, only Walker made it an early night.

Which, by the way, is another example that the preseason is too long. Even after missing two weeks of camp and the first preseason game, Walker was called for a false start on the first drive of the second series.

In other words, it took only one possession to reach midseason form.

Okay, so it's not exactly a reason to panic. Victory takes a backseat to survival in the preseason. Get in a few licks, figure out the balance of the roster and bilk the customers out of regular-season prices. For most NFL teams, that is the preseason blueprint.

And, granted, the Bucs are not yet playing with all of their weapons. Cadillac has yet to carry the ball. Galloway has not run a route. Michael Pittman had a limited role Saturday night and Mike Alstott had only two carries.

The linemen are bound to look a heck of a lot better with Cadillac squeezing through tiny holes, and Simms will have more time to throw when defenses have to worry a little more about the threat of a running game.

Still, you would like to feel better about the offense. You would like to believe you are seeing a sneak preview instead of a series of flashbacks.

They say all preseason games tend to look the same, but in Tampa Bay's case it really is true. You saw that exact sack in 2001. A carbon copy of that false start in 1998. Heck, the tipped pass was straight out of 1981.

As usual, the Bucs defense looked stellar. After three possessions, the Dolphins had no first downs and, counting penalties, minus-2 yards of offense.

And, as usual, the Bucs offense, was shaky. Specifically, the offensive line. I swear Jason Odom, Charles McRae and George Yarno made appearances.

I know it takes time to build an offensive line, but it's been 30 years.

Aren't we a little overdue on this one?

[Last modified August 20, 2006, 01:13:34]

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