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First string takes seat
The entire starting defense gets the night off as preseason ends.
By RICK STROUD
Published September 1, 2006
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Tim Rattay is pursued by Houston's Travis Johnson in the first quarter. The backup QB got his most extensive action of the preseason.
HOUSTON - This time, Simeon Rice didn't even have a chance to be sent home. He was told to stay there.
So was Anthony McFarland and Kenyatta Walker. Michael Clayton did not make the trip because his wife went into labor.
If you're looking for the importance of Thursday's 16-13 loss to the Texans in preseason finale, that's a good place to begin.
For many of the Bucs' starters, even showing up for the game was not necessary.
Turns out those players - and the ones released this week - were the lucky ones.
Except for what amounted to a final audition for receiver David Boston and rookie Bruce Gradkowski's usual third-quarter thrills, there wasn't much to take from the final tuneup.
Come to think of it, there aren't many players the Bucs will keep from this game, either.
"It was a tough decision," coach Jon Gruden said. "If you're the head coach or I'm the head coach, you want Simeon Rice in the game. You want McFarland and (Greg) Spires and (Derrick) Brooks and these guys out there. They've made the team. They're on the football team. They need to play, they need to work. But we need to see who's going to be backing them up and who's going to be the future here 10 years down the road."
If the NFL had Triple-A teams, this is what they might look like. Instead of Tampa Bay vs. Houston, it was Sarasota vs. Galveston.
The Bucs rested their entire defense. Monte Kiffin was the only one who didn't get the night off.
"I wanted some of our veteran players to stay behind and train and lift and run and get acclimated to the new facility," Gruden said. "Michael Clayton's wife (Kristina) is in labor, that's why he's not here. Because he blocked the Jacksonville corner out of the end zone last week I let him stay home to be there for the birth of his child."
Quarterback Chris Simms played the first series behind what likely will be the starting offensive line - minus Walker and his troublesome knee.
The Bucs made one first down by penalty. Simms completed a short rollout flip to tight end Anthony Becht for 6 yards and he overthrew Boston.
And that officially ended the preseason.
"We've had a strong preseason and a strong camp," Simms said. "Next week it'll be for real and we'll have Cadillac (Williams) and Joey Galloway out there and Mike Clayton and we'll be ready to go."
The outcome of Thursday's game was so irrelevant that even the Texans sat out 15 starters, including quarterback David Carr.
The Bucs' biggest goal appeared to be getting more game film on Boston, the tantalizing eighth-year receiver who finished with six catches for 77 yards.
"Yeah, you could tell, couldn't you?" Gruden said. "Here's a guy who caught (six) passes tonight and it's really the first time David Boston has played that much football in a long time. I'm thrilled he had a chance to see the ball, make some plays, get back on the grass and do what he does. It was a big step for David tonight."
Veteran Tim Rattay replaced Simms in the first quarter and had his most extensive playing time of the preseason.
With Jay Fiedler waived because he was unable to return from shoulder surgery and Luke McCown on the reserve physically-unable-to-perform list, the Bucs will have to start the season with Simms, Rattay and Gradkowski, the sixth-round pick who went 13-of-17 for 90 yards and a touchdown. For the preseason, Gradkowski was 45-of-61 for 511 yards with five touchdowns and three INTs.
"I did get a lot out of this preseason," Gradkowski said. "I was very fortunate with the reps I got during two-a-days and the preseason."
Rattay had a couple good moments. He hit Boston for a 33-yard gain to set up Matt Bryant's 28-yard field goal. Gradkowski scrambled like he was playing for Toledo and threw a touchdown to rookie tight end Tim Massaquoi.
But there were some mistakes. Rattay fumbled a snap and was intercepted when Boston slipped and the pass was picked off by safety Kevin Curtis. That led to a 31-yard field goal by Kris Brown and a 10-3 Texans lead.
For the second straight game, receiver Paris Warren muffed a punt return. It was recovered by the Texans but a penalty forced a rekick.
Since the first round of cuts were announced Tuesday until the Bucs arrived at Reliant Stadium, the roster had a slightly different look. Jets tight end Doug Jolley was acquired Thursday for an undisclosed draft pick and was in uniform for the game.
Offensive tackle Cornell Green, who was cut by the Broncos Tuesday and signed Wednesday, also made the trip.
If you're looking for clues as to who might survive Saturday's final cut to the 53-man roster limit, there were a few. If you were asked not to play Thursday, that was good. If you were asked to remain under house arrest, that was the best signal of all.
So was it relief or excitement that the Bucs felt when the preseason ended?
"I think both," Simms said. "Just relieved that the preseason is over and excited we're about to start it for real."